Four Ways to Attract Birds and Butterflies

Now is the perfect time to make your yard or garden space more attractive to birds, butterflies, and other local wildlife. All wildlife need four things to survive and thrive: natural sources of food, water, cover, and places to reproduce and raise their young.

Once you provide these four habitat components and commit to maintaining your yard or garden in a natural way, the National Wildlife Federation will recognize it as a Certified Wildlife Habitat in our Garden for Wildlife program.

Here are four easy ways to provide the four habitat components to create a garden space that attracts birds, butterflies and all sorts of other wonderful “backyard wildlife.”

Hummingbirds are frequent visitors from spring through late summer to several of our flowering plants in the yard. I set up the camera and some flashes and to capture shots of the hummingbird that kept coming back to a flowering Bee Balm plant.

Plant Natives

Habitat Provided: FOOD

Native plants are the plant species that are naturally found in your region. They are adapted to the climate, weather, and soil types of their native region, so they generally thrive with little maintenance once established. Native plants also co-evolved with wildlife and provide food sources birds and butterflies need to survive, from berries, seeds, and nuts to nectar and leaves for butterfly caterpillars to eat. By supporting caterpillars and other insects, native plants also provide a critical protein source for backyard birds, the majority of which must feed their babies insects. Many native plants are highly ornamental and look great.

We currently offer science-based native plant collections for 36 states. Shop now or sign up for our list to be notified when we offer plants for your area.

Get a list of native plants for your zip code with our Native Plant Finder.

bird at birdbath
We had just observed two weeks without rain and our landscape was very dry. We had a birdbath on order, but the birds couldn’t wait. My husband handed me this plastic shallow purple dish for me to fill with water and place out back in the meantime. I added a rock to the center of the dish and the birds came running, including this Robin. I grabbed my camera and was able to capture his reflection in the water, which I like to think is his expression of gratitude. Photo: Kristen Clark

Add a Birdbath

Habitat Provided: WATER

Birds and other wildlife need a clean source of drinking water. Birds also need to bathe in order to keep their feathers in good condition. A simple birdbath will do the trick. Birdbaths should be relatively shallow, no deeper than two to three inches. It’s important to regularly dump and refill with fresh water. This makes sure the birds have a clean water source and will also eliminate any mosquitoes. Clean your birdbath with hot soapy water and a scrub brush periodically.

Get a beautiful birdbath to provide water for birds.

red-spotted salamander on a log
Dead trees, fallen logs and brush piles offer cover for birds and other wildlife such as this red-spotted salamander in its juvenile red eft form. Photo: William Borne

Build a Brush Pile

Habitat Provided: COVER

Birds and other wildlife need sheltered places to get out of bad weather and to find cover from predators. In nature, dead and dying trees–called snags–and the branches and logs of fallen trees provide excellent cover for birds and butterflies. If you have a tree snag on your property, keep it if it poses no danger of falling and damaging your home. You can mimic this kind of natural habitat by building a brush pile using logs and tree branches to create a rough dome filled with hidden spaces for birds and other small wildlife to hide.

Get a step-by-step illustrated plan to build a brush pile in our new how-to book.

bluebird flying to bird house
This photo is a personal joy. I built a bluebird house for our backyard and it sat empty for over a year. Then a nice couple decided to move in. Since then we have had the same couple for seven years return to the same birdhouse in the spring and fall. They have been a true joy to watch. Photo: Dave Hawkins

Install a Nesting Box


Many species of birds nest in tree holes called cavities. As trees age, branches break, and decay sets in, causing natural cavities to form. Woodpeckers also excavate their own cavities for nesting, which are then available to other birds in subsequent seasons. You can mimic this important nesting habitat by putting out a nesting box for birds such as bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, woodpeckers, or even kestrels, owls, and wood ducks!

Get a natural nesting box to help birds raise their young.

certified wildlife habitat sign
The National Wildlife Federation will recognize your yard or garden space as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Photo: David Mizejewski / NWF

BONUS: Certify Your Garden and Post a Yard Sign

Once you’ve created your wildlife habitat garden, get it recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. When you certify, you join our growing movement of people who are planting with a purpose to help wildlife (plus a lot of other great benefits). Get certified here.

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