Shelter is essential for birds' survival, and it is easy to create bird-friendly shelters in the backyard. Birds that feel safe and secure with appropriate shelters are more likely to stay nearby, offering more opportunities for observation, and an active yard with adequate shelter will attract a wider, more diverse range of bird species.
Why Birds Need Shelter
Shelter provides many benefits to birds, and while most birds are well-equipped to survive with minimal shelter, a safer place to stay will be even more beneficial.
- Safety: First and foremost, shelter helps keep birds safe. Leaves, branches and grasses provide natural camouflage as well as a barrier that larger predators, such as feral cats and hawks, cannot penetrate to get to small birds. This is also useful for nesting birds, and good shelters protect the nest and hatchlings.
- Weather Protection: Birds have many ways to keep warm or stay cool, but good shelter helps mitigate harsh weather so birds need less energy to adjust their body temperatures. The best shelters are windbreaks, rain or snow shields and insulation at different times, depending on the current weather.
- Food: Many shelters serve a dual purpose and are not only safe, weather-protected areas to rest, but also provide food. Birds can eat many parts of plants, including buds, berries, fruit, nuts, seeds and sap, and insects attracted to the food plants provide are also a vital food source for many birds.
The very best bird shelters can meet all a bird's needs for safety, weather protection and food, and there are many types of both natural and artificial shelters that can help birds in multiple ways.
Natural Shelters for Birds
Providing natural shelter in the backyard is an ideal way to attract birds to a safe, secure setting. The most popular natural shelters include:
- Trees: All types of trees are beneficial to birds, but a well-designed landscape will include both deciduous and coniferous tree species. Deciduous trees often have better nesting sites and food sources for most backyard birds, while coniferous trees are essential for reliable year-round shelter.
- Shrubs: Both deciduous and coniferous shrubs and bushes are also suitable bird shelters, particularly for smaller birds or ground-dwelling species such as doves and quail. Shrubs come in a variety of sizes, and are often preferred for small, compact yards that may not have the space for larger trees.
- Grass: Long, ornamental grasses are ideal for creating a prairie-like sheltered spot in a yard, and leaving a lawn to grow a bit longer can help provide more natural shelter for small birds and ground-feeding species.
- Tree Cavities: Healthy, living trees are good shelter, but dead, hollow trees are also essential for many cavity-nesting birds. These cavities are also useful for roosting owls and winter bird shelters.
Artificial Shelters for Birds
Birders who may not have many options for natural shelter in their backyard can add supplemental shelters to attract birds, such as:
- Bird Houses: Bird houses come in many shapes, sizes and designs, and the most popular birds that use houses are not tremendously picky about their accommodations. Choosing safe houses and mounting them at the right height will help make these shelters even more attractive to nesting birds.
- Brush Piles: It is easy to build a brush pile quickly from pruned branches or other natural debris, and while the pile will not last indefinitely, it helps simulate the natural shelters of trees and shrubs that birds prefer.
- Buildings: Outdoor buildings such as decks, sheds, barns or garages can be bird shelters if a reliable access is left open for birds to enter and exit. Species such as barn owls, house sparrows and different swifts and swallows will take shelter in many buildings and chimneys.
- Decks: A covered deck can help provide shelter around bird feeders, and a bird nesting shelf or bird house could be mounted under the eaves of a deck for extra protection. The underside of a deck can also be a sheltered space for doves, quail and small birds.
- Roost Boxes: Bird roost boxes are ideal supplemental shelters for winter birds, and they are designed to accommodate small flocks that will group together to share body heat on cold nights. Some bird houses are also designed to be converted to roost boxes after the breeding season.
Tips for Attracting Birds With Shelter
Even simple, basic shelters will help attract birds, but to make a backyard as safe and appealing as possible to backyard birds...
- Create shelter at different heights by using multiple layers of plants for dense, thicket-like landscaping that can accommodate many birds.
- Choose native plants whenever possible because the birds are more familiar with them, and those plants will thrive more easily with minimal care.
- Create sheltered areas of different densities to provide options for birds with different needs for various levels of protection.
- Offer sufficient shelter near bird feeders and bird baths so birds that take advantage of those resources can feel protected and have a safe retreat if they feel threatened.
- Opt for shelter options that can do double duty whenever possible, such as fruit trees for birds, seed-bearing native grasses and bird houses that convert to roost boxes.
By providing good shelter through a variety of approaches, it is possible to attract a wide range of birds that will feel safe and comfortable in your backyard.
Photo – Bluethroat © guldfisken