Are you wanting to hear the American robin's "cheerily-cheer-up" or the jubilant whistle of a house wren? Songbirds will flock to your backyard if it offers a source of food and water. Songbirds belong to the order passeriformes, which means perching birds, and the suborder oscines, also called passeri; this accounts for 70 families of bird species and includes titmice, swallows, warblers, finches, thrushes, orioles, tanagers, larks, nuthatches and mockingbirds. You probably already have some naturally occurring food sources in your yard. But you can attract more songbirds by resourcefully planting some vegetation and providing store-bought provisions.
The majority of songbirds eat insects during the summer months. Some songbirds can eat up to 300 insects per day, states the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Some species eat other invertebrates as well. For example, robins eat earthworms and wrens eat spiders. To ensure songbirds have an ample supply of insects, do not spray pesticides in your yard.
Songbirds also tend to feast on seeds that come directly from plants. North Carolina State University recommends planting perennials and shrubs of different heights to create a layering effect in order to meet the eating habits of the various songbirds; some prefer to feed on the ground while others prefer taking cover at greater heights. Annuals and perennials with pronounced seed heads are especially attractive food sources for songbirds. Examples of effective annuals are sunflowers, floss flowers and spider flowers. Perennials that attract songbirds include purple and great coneflowers, bee balm, globe thistle and tickseed.
In addition to seed and insects, songbirds search for berries and fruit as part of their diet. By planting certain shrubs and trees in your yard, you will provide songbirds not only a delicious food source but also a potential place to build a nest or to hide from predators. Pine trees produce cones that nourish species such as warblers and nuthatches. Dogwood and redmulberry are shorter trees that produce berries popular among many species of songbirds. Examples of shrubs beneficial to songbirds are blueberry, deciduous holly, serviceberry and hawthorn.
Food for the Winter
When shrubs and plants become dormant and the ground begins to freeze, it becomes difficult for songbirds to access natural food sources. Birds that stick around for the winter or that are passing through benefit from generous humans filling their bird feeders. North Carolina State University states that black-oil sunflower seeds are generally the most popular bird feed among bird species. Songbirds like cardinals, buntings and chickadees particularly enjoy them. Finches and pine siskins like thistle seeds. Juncos, mourning doves and sparrows will arrive if millet seeds are spread on the ground. A variety of songbirds are attracted to a suet, which you can make yourself out of shortening, raisins, apple pieces, birdseed, peanut butter and oatmeal.
- Stanford University; Passerines and Songbirds; Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin and Darryl Wheye; 1988
- North Carolina State University: Attracting Songbirds
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension; Attracting and Feeding Songbirds; J. Drew Lanham; October 1999
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Songbirds — A Colorful Chorus
- Stony Brook State University of New York, Mathematics Department: Bird Songs
- Yourhome.ca: Gardens That Will Attract Amazing Wildlife; Mark Cullen; May 20, 2010