Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Yard

To make your backyard a haven for birds and butterflies, provide the essentials – food, water, and shelter – and they will flock to your land. Keep the following information and tips in mind when creating havens for your winged friends.

There are four basic types of bird feeders. Gravity feeders usually have a roof and either glass or plastic sides so the birds can see the food and you know when it needs to be refilled. These feeders allow for continuous feeding.

Open-shelf feeders may or may not have a roof and usually do not have sides except for a small rim, which keeps the seeds from falling or blowing away. Uncovered feeders allow the birds to see danger and are popular because the birds are very visible.

Simply scattering food over a clear plot of ground constitutes a ground feeder. However, you can also place any platform feeder, with or without a roof, on the ground. One advantage of a ground feeder is that it attracts several species of birds that rarely visit feeders hung from trees, placed on poles, or attached to buildings.

Suet feeders commonly consist of either a small wire basket or a large mesh bag in which suet is placed. These feeders are either suspended or permanently affixed to the side of a tree, building, or other feeder.

The most common types of bird food include: unsalted sunflower seeds, millet and small-seed mixtures, cracked corn, thistle seed, shelled unsalted peanuts, suet, and assorted pieces of fruit. A single food type usually does not provide an adequate variety for good nutrition, so develop a blend for the specialized needs of local birds.

Locate feeders about 6 to12 feet from trees and bushes to allow feeding birds to escape easily from predators. And don’t forget to test the view so you can watch the birds during cold winter weather from your indoor perch.

You can fulfill critical water needs with a simple bird bath or ground watering device. Size is not important, but the edges of the bath should slope gradually. Make sure your water is fresh and clean, especially in the winter when many natural sources are frozen and inaccessible.

Although butterflies certainly are quieter, they are no less desirable as backyard visitors than the many birds your careful plans can attract.

Remember that butterflies are cold-blooded and need sunlight to warm their flight muscles. It’s best to locate the attractive plants in a sunny area. Also, wind and predators can be serious threats to butterflies, so plant your garden in a protected spot next to a vine-covered fence, a wall, or a windbreak of shrubs or trees.

In general, plants that bloom for much of the summer and produce large amounts of nectar will attract many adult butterflies. These include butterfly bush, butterfly milkweed, tithonia, and large flowering zinnias and asters.

(Source: University of Illinois Extension; College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.)

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