Plants that Attract Birds to your Garden

by KathleenDuffy

It's possible to attract a variety of birds into the garden by choosing plants that provide food and shelter. Here are some planting suggestions to create a haven for birdlife.

Because of changes to the countryside – land drainage, cutting down of hedgerows and trees, increase in the use of chemicals etc. – birds are amongst the most vulnerable species to be affected and numbers are declining. Even the humble sparrow, once so popular and common in our cities and countryside alike, has seen a dramatic decline.

However, those who have gardens can create a haven for bird life that will not only provide food and shelter, but reward the gardener with hours of pleasure.

Gardeners Can Help Conserve Bird Life

English Sparrow
English Sparrow

In Britain, according to the government's Biodiversity Action Plan, the following bird species are amongst those needing all-year-round conservation help:

  • song thrush
  • spotted flycatcher
  • bullfinch
  • starling
  • house sparrow

Those who are fortunate enough to own a bit of garden can really help to make a haven for local birdlife, whether in the town or countryside.

Throughout the winter months we remember to provide plenty of food and water for birds, and in the spring perhaps we can provide nesting materials too. At the same time, we could think about plants that would be really beneficial to our local bird population and start planning our gardens around this idea.


Some suggestions for planting

The following plant types are particularly helpful in bird conservation and are suggested by expert, Anni Gatti in Gardener's World Magazine, January 2010. Of course, the size of the garden will be a factor when deciding on any particular planting scheme. 


Trees provide a variety of insect life, as well as seeds and berries. Consider planting: birch, Scots pine, alder, beech, holly, rowan or hawthorn.

If space is tight plant an apple or crab apple tree. These can be quick-growing and support a variety of insect life as well as fruit. 

Elder trees are especially useful because not only do they display abundant blossoms in spring, but autumn sees an equally prolific crop of berries.



Silver Birch
Silver Birch
Elder blossom
Elder blossom
Holly Tree
Holly Tree

Plants with Berries


Plants that produce berries are a source of high-energy food.

In winter months holly and ivy attract a variety of birds including starlings, finches, woodpigeons and waxwings.

Honeysuckle is another good choice, along with shrubs that produce berries and can be useful for nesting.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera etrusca)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera etrusca)
Guelder rose berries
Guelder rose berries

Consider planting pyracantha, berberis, cotoneaster, elder, guelder rose, dog rose and good old-fashioned bramble. Hawthorn and the ever useful holly also provide shelter from cats for blackbirds, thrushes and wrens.

Ivy also provides shelter, but in order to produce winter berries for the birds, ensure it is planted in full sun.

Plants with seedheads

Sunflower (helianthus annuus)
Sunflower (helianthus annuus)

Think twice before deadheading plants such as teasel, sedum, sunflower, achillea, lavender, crocosmia, hemp agrimony, angelica, fennel and dill.

The birds who visit the garden love these seeds, so this is a job that can be delayed.

Plants with nectar

Butterfly and Buddleia
Butterfly and Buddleia

Many nectar-producing plants are useful for bird life because they attract insects, including hoverflies, butterflies and moths. These lay their eggs on the plants and birds can then feed the larvae to their hungry chicks.

Plants such as buddleia, achillea and campanula would make an attractive and useful addition to the bird-lover’s garden.

Consider Planting a Lawn

...or even a small patch of grass!
Patch of Grass - van Gogh
Patch of Grass - van Gogh

A small patch of uncut grass can be a goldmine for blackbirds and song thrushes who love pulling up worms. Ants are a feast for green woodpeckers and leatherjackets provide nourishment for starlings.

Insects will lay their eggs here too, and grass seedheads along with buttercups and dandelions are a vital seed source.

Some Final Garden Bird Tips

Wood Pigeons by Edward Lear
Wood Pigeons by Edward Lear

Here are a few tips to remember when planning a garden that will ensure birds are constant visitors:

  • Birds tend to spend their time at different levels so, if possible, provide varying heights of trees and shrubs to accommodate  them. Tree tops are the preferred habitat for nuthatches and wood pigeons; robins and finches are happy at shrub level; wrens and blackbirds potter      about amongst low-growing plants.
  • Never use chemical weedkillers and fertilisers in the  garden. Use organic methods which are not harmful to birds and other  wildlife.
  • Don’t cut hedges or climbing plants during the breeding season. You will disturb nesting birds who may abandon their chicks never  to return.

My Own Experience

You don't need a garden...

Unfortunately I don't have a garden - but I do have a tiny balcony with a few plants growing.  I have a bird feeder with mealworms and peanuts, etc. and also a container for fat balls.   As a result, I have lots of feathered visitors to my minute space including black birds, robins, magpies, blue tits and chaffinches.

But please let me introduce you to my friendly wood pigeon who comes in for a visit every day!


A wood pigeon drops in.
A wood pigeon drops in.
K Duffy

Without a garden, if you have a tiny outside space you can still  make friends with birds!

And even a window can attract birds using the handy bird feeders which are now available and which stick on to your window pane!

The Joy of Birds in the Garden

Robin - Sylvia Duckworth
Robin - Sylvia Duckworth

A lot of time and effort goes into planning a garden which will attract a variety of bird species. Yet what better way to spend the dreary winter weeks?

Your creative efforts will be rewarded in the coming months when these precious companions find a welcome haven amongst the plants you have so thoughtfully provided.

Bird Feeders Available on E-Bay

Updated: 03/21/2014, KathleenDuffy
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MBC on 07/06/2016

Fun photo of the wood pigeon.

KathleenDuffy on 06/22/2013

HelloWriterArtist - I do so agree that watching birds is a delight. I've become quite obsessed with it ! If I don't see 'my' wood pigeon for a day I get a bit anxious! Wondering where s/he is... Thanks for your post.

WriterArtist on 06/22/2013

One day, I spotted a rare species of bird that I had never seen before in my small home garden. Planting tall trees attract one species of birds like crows whereas planting flowering trees will attract another species. Greenery attracts many forms of birds and watching them is a delight.

KathleenDuffy on 06/03/2013

Hi Nick - Thanks so much for your post. When I have a minute I will definitely put the elder tree onto the article. I appreciate your input! Thanks a lot! :)

KathleenDuffy on 06/03/2013

Hi Elias - Yes, I know what you mean about 'invading'! I have to be quite strict in my visiting allowance! Don't want poo all over the carpet...:) But still, it's nice to be trusted by a wild creature even if it is 'using me' as a food source! I agree that it is so amazing how quickly a tiny little habitat can attract wild life.

EliasZanetti on 06/03/2013

While I don't have a garden kathleen, I have a few plants which occasionally attract some birds. Unfortunately, the majority of them are doves. I say unfortunately, because they do have the habit of invanding (as your picture shows too) and there is nothing they won't do in order to find food! :) Great article and beautiful photos!

nickupton on 06/02/2013

Birds need all the help they can get. Cats, cars and windows kill millions of birds every year in UK and added to the conservation issues you have mentioned, birds are having a hard time. I would add elder to your list of trees to plant. The blossom is fantastic in spring and the berries in autumn will attract large numbers of birds trying to fatten up before winter.

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