Birds have excellent vision and see colors very well, even better than humans' vision, but how can backyard birders take advantage of birds' color sense? Choosing the best colors to attract birds can add beauty to the backyard and encourage more species to visit.
Why Birds See Color
Color is important to many bird species, and they rely on color clues in their environment in several ways.
- Bright plumage colors indicate a mature, healthy bird that will be a strong mate.
- Brightly colored fruit is ripe and ready to eat at the peak of its nutritious content.
- Bright flowers are filled with nectar and will attract insects for another food source.
Because birds are so attuned to colors, adding the right colors to your backyard can be a creative and beautiful way to attract birds, particularly in late fall and winter when lass natural color may be available.
Best Colors to Attract Birds
Different birds are attracted to different colors. Individual bird species may see the “best” colors as indicating a food source, or they may be more attracted to the colors of their own plumage as those could indicate a potential mate or another bird that is surviving well. Most bright colors, however, can be used to attract birds, with certain bird species being more attracted to particular shades.
- Red and Pink: Hummingbirds
- Orange: Orioles, hummingbirds
- Yellow: Goldfinches, warblers, hummingbirds
- Blue: Bluebirds, jays
Camouflage colors such as gray, brown and dull green are excellent colors to attract birds with more nervous temperaments, such as doves, quail and other ground feeders, because these colors represent security and safety.
One color, in particular, should be avoided as much as possible – white signals alarm, danger and aggression to many birds (think of the white flash of a dark-eyed junco's tail feathers or the white on a northern mockingbird's wings), and adding a lot of white to the backyard will not attract birds, but will warn them away.
Using Color to Attract Birds
There are many ways to add both natural and artificial color sources to your backyard to attract birds to the beautiful shades. Birdscaping with colorful flowers, trees, shrubs, vines and grasses is one of the best options, and many plants that have these bright colors will also provide food, shelter and nesting sites, making them even more useful for bird-friendly landscaping. When choosing plants, opt for the most colorful varieties, and choose cultivars that have both early and late-lasting color so they will attract birds as long as possible. Also investigate the colors of any fruit produced by the plants or autumn changes in foliage color to choose the most colorful options for natural color to attract birds in all seasons. If a garden or flowerbeds are not available, consider adding colorful plants to large containers or window boxes instead, and change them seasonally for the most vibrant shades.
Birders who want to add an artificial touch of color to their yards have many options for supplementing natural plantings with a rainbow burst that can attract birds.
- Add a colored gazing ball or mosaic ball in the yard, preferably near a bird feeder or bath.
- Paint fences or garden sheds in bright colors, using non-toxic paints for bird safety.
- Choose decorative items with touches of color birds will find attractive.
- Opt for colorful bird feeders, or add colored ribbons or artificial flowers to bird feeders.
- Paint other objects in the garden bright colors, such as pots, benches or arbors.
It does not take much color to attract birds, but be sure the colorful accents will be visible from the sky. A beautiful piece of color hidden under a thick tree or deep inside bushes will not attract as many birds as one that will be visible as they fly nearby. Similarly, avoid colorful objects that move frequently, such as spinning pinwheels, flags or windsocks, because the constant movement can scare away birds that are not used to the area. Color placed near bird feeding stations or bird baths can be more effective because it will help lead the birds to items they need, and once they find those items, they will be more likely to stay.
Keeping Color in Perspective
While color can attract birds to the backyard, it is important to understand that color alone will not keep birds visiting. Use color to catch birds' attention, but provide good food, fresh water, secure shelter, nesting sites and bird-friendly landscaping to encourage birds to stay, and you'll find that their plumage adds an even more welcome touch of color to your yard.
Photo – Colorful Garden © Rachel Kramer