Attract Backyard Birds, Not Backyard Bears

More than 70 million people – one in four households – use bird feeders to attract birds. People buy more than four billion pounds of birdseed every year, according to a 2021 analysis from the Wild Bird-Feeding Institute. At about 2,600 calories a pound for black-oil sunflower seed, that adds up to more than ten TRILLION calories.

Statistically speaking, that means an industrious bear has a one in four chance of finding a backyard-calorie bonanza. Bears are intelligent, resourceful and quickly learn from experiences. So once a bear discovers that bird feeders are handy carry-out containers full of highly nutritious food, it will explore every backyard it comes across, looking for more.

The National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation agree: It’s not responsible to feed birds during the months when bears are active. They recommend taking feeders down from mid-March through mid-November. BearWise recommends checking with your wildlife agency to see when bears start to emerge in your area.

Worried that taking down your feeders will hurt the birds? Many research studies show that in general, birds don’t need to be fed during late spring, summer and fall when natural foods are plentiful and young birds are learning how to feed themselves.

Do you care about bears, but don’t want to give up watching birds? Here’s how you can attract more birds without endangering bears.

A Bird-Friendly Landscape Attracts Birds Year-Round

Creating a bird-friendly landscape with beneficial plants, safe places to perch and nest, water sources and other natural features will attract many more species of birds than a bird feeder, including insect eaters and other birds that never visit feeders. And when birds feel at home, they hang around much longer than when they’re dropping in for a quick meal.

Plant for Birds

Conservationists recommend planting native plants, flowers, bushes, vines, trees and evergreens whenever possible. Birds are attracted to plants they’re familiar with. As an added bonus, native plants are hardier and require less maintenance because they are uniquely adapted to the local climate.

You’ll be amazed at the variety of birds you’ll see throughout the year—especially if you offer native plants that feed not only the birds, but also support the insects that make up a crucial part of their diets. Tip: Avoid pesticides; many birds rely on insects for a big part of their diet.

Planted in the garden or hanging in baskets, brightly colored, trumpet-shaped and tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. Sunflowers, coneflowers, asters and marigolds are just a few of the flowers that produce seeds birds like to eat. Many attractive bushes and flowering trees also attract pollinators, butterflies, and beneficial insects as well as offering safe places for birds to perch and rest. Nurseries can help you choose beneficial native plants that do well in your area.

Get Plant Recommendations by Zip Code: The Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database contains thousands of plants; just enter your zip code and you’ll get a selection of Best Choices for your area, along with photos, local resources and next steps. Your local chapter of the Audubon Society may be able to recommend experts who can help. And the Pollinator Partnership offers regional planting guides and zip code recommendations.

Shelter and Perches

Birds need places to perch and places to hide from predators. Small branching trees and bushes provide perches and shelter, and offer insect-eaters access to food. Adding a colorful wind chime, perching stick or other decoration to your garden creates a handy perch and opportunities for easy viewing.

Nesting Boxes

It is easy to attract and monitor birds with a Gilbertson PVC nest box. (Photo: Alan Olander)

Several species of birds use nesting boxes, and many cavity-nesting birds now depend on them because there are far fewer standing dead trees. Summer is a great time to scope out locations and buy or make boxes so you’re ready to put them up in late winter. Nest boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes designed to attract different species. Visit NestWatch.org for help finding the right boxes for the bird species nesting in your area.

Sand Baths and Grit

Birds take dust baths; you can make a simple dust bath using fine sand surrounded by pavers or landscaping timbers. Position it near cover so birds are safe from predators. Birds don’t have teeth; their gizzards digest food and need grit to work properly. Birds will appreciate a corner with sand and small bits of gravel and stone.

Add a Water Feature

Birds need fresh water to drink and bathe, and are always on the lookout for dependable sources. Adding a simple bird bath, a fountain or a small pool with a bubbler to your garden creates a sure-fire attractant. The sounds of running water are music to a bird’s ears; installing a small waterfall that feeds into a shallow pool will attract birds looking for a drink or a bath. Add a few flat bathing stones to provide even more opportunities. You can even create movement in a stationary bird bath by installing a mister, dripper, or circulating pump. Tip: Solar-powered and heated bird baths add to your options.

For even more ways to be bird-friendly, feeder-free and BearWise, download the BearWise Bulletin #1: Attract Birds, Not Bears


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