Our backyards bring us enjoyment beyond description. Whether to provide a quiet place to sit, an active space for BBQ’s with friends and family, or a place to grow some fresh food, our yards are a sanctuary to express ourselves and our lives. They also provide huge opportunities to help enhance the environmental health and quality of our urban birds and the people with whom we share our city.
Creating gardens that support and attract wildlife help to build urban diversity, aid in species survival, and offer visual enjoyment. Simply maintaining large trees can help reduce climate impacts and reduce heat island effects, and adding a rain garden can reduce urban flooding. This page identifies some effective ways to enhance your yard for wildlife and environmental health.
Don’t have a yard? You can still add valuable habitat elements for our local birds! See below for more information on container and patio gardening.
When landscaping a yard or garden space in the city, it is important to remember that not all plants are created equal. In order to maximize the habitat benefits of an urban landscape one must considering using mostly (if not all) native plants. Native plants offer important food, foraging, nesting, and roosting space all year round. The most beneficial aspect of native plants for birds are due to the fact that they host many species of insects. Insects are a critical food source for nesting birds, 96% of which depend on insect foods to raise their young. Non-native plant species tend to be relatively pest-free, which can be a benefit to humans, but less so for birds and their young.
Layers, Layers, Layers
The key to a successful urban habitat is diversity both in species of plants as well as a variety of layers in the vegetative structure. Individual species’ food needs and behaviors determine where in the vertical habitat birds are most comfortable, so having this variety is ideal. Maintaing large conifer trees, like Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks are critical in offering space in the overstory canopy for species like Red Crossbill, swallows, and flycatchers. Smaller trees like native dogwoods, alders, and Cascara make up the understory canopy where kinglets, chickadees, jays, and owls thrive. Smaller brush species, like Indian plum (Osoberry), Beaked Hazelnut, and Vine Maple can make up the shrub layer for Bushtits, hummingbirds, and goldfinches. Ferns, huckleberries, salal, and many other shorter bushes and ground cover plants will offer space for ground-dwelling birds like sparrows, wrens, and towhees.
Come Visit us!
The Seattle Audubon offices and Nature Shop located in the Wedgwood neighborhood is a great example of how habitat can be maximized in a small urban space. Come check out the garden, watch some birds, and enjoy a Native Plant Garden Scavenger Hunt!
Container and Patio Gardening
Apartment and condominium dwellers can help with increasing native habitat for birds in our city too. There are many native plants, including trees and shrubs, that can be grown in pots on a patio, deck, or windowsill. Layers can also be created by obtaining various species of native plants that offer shelter, nectar, seeds, and berries for a variety of birds and pollinators.
We also encourage everyone to contact the landscape managers at schools, businesses, and apartment/condo complexes to encourage the use of native plants on the property.
Make it Safe
If you’re going to make a welcoming space for birds in your yard or patio, safety of those birds becomes paramount. There are many small changes one can do to remove or eliminate common urban hazards.
- Make your windows bird-safe through installation of tapes, decals, or other measures
- Place bird feeders within 1 meter of a treated window, or more than 10 meters away from the home
- Make sure feeders and water sources are cleaned and sanitized weekly to prevent spread of disease
- Eliminate use of pesticides like anticoagulant rodenticides (rat poisons)
- Turn off or shield outdoor or outdoor facing lights, especially during migration season
- Keep cats indoors, in catios, or on leashes when visiting the outdoors
Gardening for Life (Seattle Audubon): One of Seattle Audubon’s long standing efforts to help homeowners create backyard gardens to attract and promote healthy bird populations. Find out how to create a garden that is easier to maintain and attracts numerous birds to your yards for enjoyment. (All in-person speaking engagements are currently on hold until January 2022.)
Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website that explains how to create and certify your backyard as a wildlife sanctuary.
Other garden-related information can be found on our Resources Page.