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Urban Birds to Help

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 10.48.18 AMBirds in urban yards and neighborhoods dominated by buildings and tiny yards, patios, or balconies need help finding food, shelter, and water.  Especially if there are large parks, wooded streams, or other patches of habitat nearby, creating additional small patches of habitat or providing food and water can help the birds better survive and move across the otherwise hostile landscape.

Urban Birds to Help are those that are usually common in local woodlands or habitat patches, and that can be attracted and helped by creating additional habitat in a small urban yard.

Click on the name of an urban bird in your area to find the one page fact sheet on how you can provide food, water, shelter, and nesting opportunities for these birds in your small urban yard, patio, or balcony.

Urban Birds to Help


Anna’s Hummingbird



Black-chinned Hummingbird


Cedar Waxwing


Chimney Swift


Common Nighthawk


Gray Catbird


Northern Cardinal


Northern Mockingbird


Ruby-throated Hummingbird


Song Sparrow

You can make an even bigger impact on these birds if you get your neighbors to help you provide habitat for birds in their yards.  For more information on how to help birds in your neighborhood see the Neighborhood Bird Conservation Workbook.

Suburban Birds to Help

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 2.49.01 PMTraditional suburban yards are dominated by lawns, flowerbeds, foundation plantings, and shade trees.  With a little additional work, they can provide useful habitat for many local birds that need help to survive in suburban neighborhoods.

Suburban Birds to Help are those birds that may be more common in larger local habitat patches, such as woodlands and large parks, but that need help surviving the less hospitable landscapes of traditional yards and neighborhoods.

To help birds in your suburban yard, click on the name of picture of a Suburban Bird to Help in your area to get an attractive and printable pdf handout outlining what the bird needs and how you can provide what it needs in your yard.

Suburban Birds to Help

BEWRBewick’s Wren


Brown Thrasher

BUORBullock’s Oriole


CACHCarolina Chickadee

ESOWEastern Screech-Owl

GCFLGreat Crested Flycatcher

NOFLNorthern Flicker


Purple Martin

SPTOSpotted Towhee

To better help birds in your neighborhood, work with your neighbors to provide additional habitat for the birds in their yards.  For more information on how to make your neighborhood better for birds, see the Neighborhood Bird Conservation Workbook published by Audubon.  Note that the Birds to Help handouts listed there are no longer available on the Audubon website, but are now posted here at Urban Birdscapes!

Rural Birds to Help

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 2.48.12 PMIf you own a rural yard or larger property, you probably have a lot of birds already in your yard.  But there are always additional birds in your area that may need a little extra attention in order to thrive on your property.

Rural Birds to Help are those species that can often thrive on a larger or more rural property, but that usually need a little more care and help to survive.

To find a Rural Bird to Help to attract to your property, click on the image of name of the birds below in order to get the one page printable .pdf fact sheet outlining what that bird needs and how you can provide what it needs on your property.  Some of these birds live in only part of North America, so make sure that the ones you want to help actually live in your area.

Rural Birds to Help

AMKEAmerican Kestrel


Barn Owl

BADOBarred Owl

EABLEastern Bluebird

EAMEEastern Meadowlark

EATOEastern Towhee

NOBONorthern Bobwhite

WEBLWestern Bluebird

WODOWood Duck

WOTHWood Thrush


To better help birds in your rural area, enlist your neighbors in providing additional habitat for these birds.  You may even consider forming a wildlife coop in order to better work together.  You can find additional information on how to help birds in your neighborhood by downloading the Neighborhood Bird Conservation Workbook.  Note that at the Birds to Help fact sheets are no longer available on the Audubon at Home website, but are now available here at Urban Birdscapes.

Birds to Help

BCHUNo matter where you live, there are cool birds that need your help to better thrive in your yard.  Even the smallest balcony or urban yard can provide important habitat for birds looking for food, shelter, water, or shelter.

Birds to Help are those species that need extra help to thrive near people. They may be relatively common, but they still need our help to remain common around our homes and in our neighborhoods.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 10.48.18 AMHomeowners can choose a few Birds to Help found in their part of the country and depending on whether they have a small downtown or urban yard, standard suburban yard, or a more rural property. Neighborhood groups promoting a few locally important Birds to Help in their community, can improve local habitats, engage new audiences in helping birds, and make a significant impact on their quality of life.

For each Bird to Help, the National Audubon Society (funded by the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service) has created a one page easily printable fact sheet with what the bird needs and how you can provide for those needs in your yard or property.  These fact sheets are no longer available on the Audubon at Home website, so here they are for your enjoyment!

Click on a bird name to get its .pdf  Bird to Help fact sheet.

Birds to Help







Anna’s Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Cedar Waxwing

Chimney Swift

Common Nighthawk

Gray Catbird

Northern Cardinal

Northern Mockingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Song Sparrow

Bewick’s Wren

Brown Thrasher

Bullock’s Oriole


Carolina Chickadee

Eastern Screech-Owl

Great Crested Flycatcher

Northern Flicker

Purple Martin

Spotted Towhee

American Kestrel

Barn Owl

Barred Owl

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Towhee

Northern Bobwhite

Western Bluebird

Wood Duck

Wood Thrush


For more information on how to help birds in each type of residential or commercial landscape, see the posts on Urban Birds to Help, Suburban Birds to Help, and Rural Birds to Help.


Review: Bird Homes and Habitats

bird homes and habitatsThere are a lot of books out there on how to attract birds to your yard.  The basics of providing bird feeders and housing have been known for over 100 years. So what is to distinguish one bird-helping book from any other?

Bill Thompson III’s Bird Homes and Habitats (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) is a recent addition that distinguishes itself with several great features:

The AuthorBill Thompson III, longtime editor of BirdWatcher’s Digest and author of many bird books, is a well-known figure in the birding community–as is his wife, fellow author, artist, and bird expert Julie Zickefoose.  Bird Homes and Habitats gives us all another chance to hang out with Bill and Julie as they share their passion and knowledge.  Bill has a relaxed and engaging style that has made him a popular writer and speaker on the birding circuit, and that style is well evident here, making Bird Homes and Habitats a fun read.  Several bonus essays by Julie Zickefoose on being a backyard bird landlord, taking care of orphan birds, and dealing with nest box competition are additional highlights.

Birdy Backyard All-Stars–one of the final chapters of this book profiles 15 yards and yard owners who are doing fun things for birds on their property.  This further grounds Bird Homes and Habitats in real world settings, providing essentially 15 inspiring PSAs promoting bird-friendly yards.  Many of these All-Stars are also well-known writers in the birding community, so it is fun to see where they live and what they are doing for birds.

Photos–As with all BirdWatcher’s Digest publications, we get great photos illustrating the main ideas of book, making for a very attractive and informative presentation.

Troubleshooting and FAQs–this extended section answers many questions that would-be bird landlords may have, as well as providing many useful tips about taking care of birds in general.

All in all, this book is more than just a how-to manual, it is an inspiring and useful resource that brings a lot of heart and soul to our bird-friendly practices.   It is well produced, and provides most of the basics that we would expect about bird nest boxes.

A couple things to add–Bird Homes and Habitats starts the story of efforts to help bluebirds with the Audubon Naturalist Society efforts in the 1970s.  I would have liked to have seen a nod to earlier bluebird trail pioneers such as Thomas E. Musselman, William Duncan, and Oscar Findlay (see that history here).  In addition, the narrative on Purple Martins makes the claim that in the early 19th Century Alexander Wilson observed these birds nesting in gourds provided by Native Americans, and that this note supplies the “first documented record of human-supplied housing being used by birds in North America.”  In actuality, Wilson was a late reporter of this phenomena, which had been detailed as early as the 1670s by English clergyman and naturalist John Banister.  There are many additional reports from the 1700s on Purple Martins and other birds using nest boxes in North America.

These minor historical quibbles aside, I found Bird Homes and Habitats to be a good review of bird housing basics, and very inspirational and informative, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to get started helping birds in their backyard, and for those more experienced backyard bird helpers that want additional information and especially the personal insights provided by Bill Thompson III and Julie Zickefoose.

Urban Birdscapes on Facebook

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Now it is easier than ever to share urban bird conservation news and notices through a public Urban Birdscapes Facebook Group.  Join the group to be part of the movement to make cities and neighborhoods around the world better for birds and people.

Year of the Starling in the Netherlands

Vogelbescherming Nederland (BirdLife Netherlands) is promoting 2014 as the Year of the Starling.  Here’s one of their promotional posters.


Starlings are urban exploiters, nesting in cities and foraging widely in a agricultural fields. They have declined by over 50% in many parts of Europe.

From 1984 to 2012, the breeding population in the Netherlands decreased by an average of 4% per year. As a result, there currently less than 40% of the population of the mid-eighties . The downward trend has slowed in the last decade, but still exceeds 2% per year.

Agricultural intensification has limited formerly abundant foods, and now they are faced with additional food losses caused by the neonicotinoid pesticides that are wiping out bees.

While not a species of conservation concern in North America, in their native Europe this vulnerable common bird bears watching and protecting.

BirdLife International Survey on the Status of Urban Bird Conservation

bigub survey coverLast week in Ottawa we were able to present our BirdLife International Survey on the Status of Urban Bird Conservation to Marco Lambertini, the CEO of BirdLife International, at the BirdLife International World Congress.  This survey provides a look into the urban bird conservation efforts of 49 BirdLife International partners and affiliate organizations around the world.  Lots of good details, as well as survey results from an additional 25 Audubon chapters across the United States.

Download a .pdf here:

BirdLife International Survey on the Status of Urban Bird Conservation

What the heck is a Birdscape?

The first use of the term “birdscaping” that I can find is in the title of Birdscaping Your Yard, a 47 page pamphlet published by the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection in 1972. The term “birdscaping” is not used in the text itself, where the process of creating wildlife habitat in residential yards is termed wildlife gardening or landscaping.  In 1979, Carlin Kindilien wrote a small booklet entitled Natural Birdscaping: How to Attract Birds to Your Yard Naturally.

In 1994, Rodale Press published Birdscaping Your Garden by George Adams. This 208 page reference work uses the term birdscaping frequently in the text, and also refers to created bird habitats as “birdscapes.”

In 2000, Birdscapes was launched as the all bird conservation magazine of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology used Birdscapes as the title of a bird song pop-up book in 2008.

In the past decade, the term birdscaping has become much more common. A Google search in 2004 yielded 835 websites using the term, including sites published by Wildbirds.comhavahart.comKVFS TV 12 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and the Sydney, Australia Birds in Backyards Project.  That same search now brings up over 660,000 hits!

While the term birdscapes and birdscaping are fairly new, the concept of landscaping to attract birds has historic roots in European and Middle Eastern bird-bottle and Colonial American birdhouse technologies, the landscape gardening movement in 18th Century England, the bird-preservation studies of Baron von Berlepsch in Germany in the late 1900s, and the popularization of bird feeding, gardening, and landscaping in America during the early 20th Century “Back to Nature” movement.

The strength of birdscaping as a conservation strategy lies in its inherently positive (you can attract and save birds because you like them) rather than negative (birds are being wiped out so we have to do something) approach. In this sense, it transcends the traditional understanding that wildlife management is typically spurred upon realization of declining populations of valued species.  It is also a strategy that helps us realize the importance of urban areas as habitat for birds and wildlife.

In short, birdscaping is a positive conservation concept and strategy that appeals to nature-loving homeowners in urban and suburban neighborhoods without resorting to doom-and-gloom rhetoric frequently common in talk about the state of the environment!  What’s not to like!?!

Bird City Wisconsin

BirdCitylogoFinalCropped200I first heard about the Bird City Wisconsin program back in 2004 when I was teaching an Urban Bird Conservation course at the University of Texas-Austin.  When I went to work for Audubon later that year, this was one of the ideas I hoped we could get going nationally.  No dice.  At least so far.  However, the efforts are growing.  Bird City Wisconsin is now spearheaded out of Milwaukee Audubon and Steve Saffier who worked with me at Audubon now has a similar program up and going in Pennsylvania.

There are now 60 bird cities in the Badger State.  To become a bird city, municipalities must meet at least 7 of 22 criteria that include creation and protection of habitat, community forest management, addressing hazards to birds, public education, and celebration of International Migratory Bird Day.

In addition to their website, you can check out Bird City Wisconsin on Facebook.