Attracting Backyard Birds and Wildlife to the Suburban Garden

A year and a half ago, I made a decision to purposefully try to attract wildlife to my suburban garden. I had the opportunity to hear the founder of High Country GardensDavid Salman  speak while in Austin, Texas.  He spoke about the importance of suburban gardens and the role that small gardens can play in protecting and nourishing wildlife.

Songbirds are disappearing. Insects are disappearing. What can one small, suburban garden do when the problem of disappearing wildlife seems overwhelming?

A famous line in the J.R.R. Tolken book 'The Fellowship of the Ring' comes to mind: "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future".

The point of Salman's talk was that even the 'smallest garden' can make an impact on turning the tide of protecting wildlife. I believe that and decided to put this idea into action. I've seen evidence of this as some of my blogging friends gardens. Chickadee Gardens and The Humming Gardener have inspired me over the years with their intentional way of providing safe spaces for wildlife to thrive in their gardens.

Collectively, small urban and suburban gardens can make a dramatic impact in saving songbirds and insects.

Here's what I've learned:

Provide a clean and consistent water source.

Pictured above - a shallow bee and bird bath that I keep full. I have placed marbles in it, particularly for bees in the warm months. Chickadees like it too.
Pictured above, a large, deeper bird bath that sits in a partially sunny spot. I keep this bird bath full all year round. It has one taller stone to for perching. It's deep, but not more than 2" when full of water. All types of visiting birds frequent this spot for drinking and bathing,

Provide shelter - bird and bee houses, as well as plants that can offer different layers and heights for birds to rest and nest upon.

Bird houses placed high in the trees to tempt the birds to nest
Provide food - insects are the key. A pesticide free home and garden is essential. No bugs = No birds. I also have feeders with different types of seed as well as feeders for hummingbirds. What is most important is providing natural food sources for birds and bees

Bird feeder (Squirrel proof) with bee balm for the hummingbirds in the background
I love plants, all different kinds of plants but now I have a focus....plants for pollinators and plants that support wildlife. I've been making edits in my garden with an emphasis on supporting bees and hummingbirds (who stay year round).

I've added several salvias in my front gardens, where the most sun is had. In my zone 8b garden, Salvia 'Black and Blue' is a perennial and salvia 'Amistad' is as well when the winters are mild.

Coneflowers are a personal favorite, but they are beloved by bees and butterflies. I do not cut them down in the winter as they provide seeds for birds in the winter

I let the naturalized nasturtiums run wild in the summer months - it's favorite of the bumble bees and hummingbirds

Instead of growing vegetables that my family won't eat (maybe someday?) my raised boxes in the backyard now host cut flower gardens that the bees enjoy.

So, who's been visiting my little suburban garden? Well...the hummingbirds sure have.....

This winter a family of Lesser Goldfinches have been regulars at the thistle feeder. 

Below, more feathered friends that I've photographed this autumn.

Black Capped Chickadee

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Song Sparrow

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Downy woodpecker (I believe)

Here's a list of the visiting birds I've documented this past year:

Blue Jays (Stellar and Scrub)
Pilated Woodpecker
Downey Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Evening Grosbeaks
Gold Finches
Lesser Gold Finches
Spotted Towhee
House Finch
Song Sparrow
White Crowned Sparrow
Golden Crowned Sparrow
Ruby Crowned Kinglet
Grackle (gah!!)
Chestnut Backed Chickadees 
Black Capped Chickadees
Red Breasted Nuthatches
Anna Hummingbirds
Rufus Hummingbirds
Red Winged Blackbird
Sharp Skinned Hawk

Not too shabby for a little suburban garden. I find the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife's page for bird identification helpful.

My next steps are to improve the plant diversity that supports wildlife in my garden. I will be looking to add some strategic winter blooming plants, specifically during Dec/Jan bloom period. I also plan to add more salvias and penestmons to provide good food for the hummingbirds in the warmer months.

Overall, my goal will be to evaluate the current plants in my gardens. I need to ask hard questions like: Is this plant water-wise? Does the plant support wildlife? Is the plant native or climate adapted?

As a lover of unique plants, it's a balance of keeping ornamental plants for my personal pleasure and creating a landscape that supports my broader goals of supporting wildlife. Available planting space is prime real estate in small gardens and I'm finding that a more focused approach has been helpful to determine what makes the cut.

A Hunts Bumblee enjoying Ceanothus 'Victoria'
Back to the idea that a small garden can make a positive impact on attracting and supporting wildlife.....I think I'm getting closer my goal. I consider my gardens to be an ever changing canvas. I can edit and continue to evolve this living palette.

Mid Spring blooms of Siberian Iris (Iris Siberica), Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) and Euphorbia Wulfenii in the background
Small but Mighty. I think all suburban and urban gardens can be a part of the solution to support song birds and insects. Here are some resources for additional reading:

Cheers, Jenni


  1. What a beautiful and inspiring post Jenni! As I write this comment I am watching a hummingbird work the Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Nanjing Gold' just outside the kitchen window. It is covered in buds, but just a few outside florets have opened. He found everyone, plus paused to rest just inches from the window—meaning I got a close-up. When I'm on the patio in the summertime the amount of birds I can watch find the stock-tank pond and drink/bathe is staggering. I've not intentionally set out to provide for the wildlife and yet they come. What you're doing is surely making a very big difference.

    1. Thank you DG - I really appreciate your words as I greatly admire the gorgeous landscape that you have created in your urban garden.

  2. Don't you love being able to DO SOMETHING? The world is so big and we're so small and so insignificant and helpless to make a difference. But we're not. Your post is a perfect illustration of that. Thank you for the inspiration.

    1. Thank you Grace! It feels empowering to take action - even on a small scale 🙂

  3. Certainly your amazing garden has had a huge impact on insect and bird diversity in your neighborhood. You are doing it, Jennifer! So wonderful to see results. When I started gardening for wildlife some years ago, the increase in birds was almost immediate and amazing. That was in our old urban Portland garden. So yes, if you plant it they will come and yes, even the smallest person can change the course of the future. Here's to the little gardens that are making it happen. Yours is a wonderful sanctuary, a respite for all manner of insects and obviously diverse bird population. Congratulations!

  4. How do you keep the Blue Jays away from emptying out your feeders?

    1. Hi Zan, the red feeder pictured in the post is mostly big bird and squirrel proof. There is an arm on it that has a weight setting. Imperfect but does slow them down. My dog also chases off the squirrels. I don't mind the blue birds as much though...

  5. Jenni, Great post. I'm impressed with all of the birds! Your garden looks awesome. I was just thinking about you, as I was looking at all of the beautiful earrings you had made. I miss your Etsy site. Hope all is well. Happy New year!

    1. Hi Bonnie! I miss my Etsy site too. I miss making things! Hmm...maybe that's a sign?? lol Happy New Year!

  6. Beautiful post, Jenni! And so very inspiring... With as shady as my yard is, I have a hard time growing things like Salvia and Echinacea, but something I can offer aplenty is overhead cover and protection. In terms of flowers, Fuchsias do alright, and the hummers love those. And I do keep a couple of bird baths. Surprisingly, I have quite a few birds visiting, which makes me happy. But, unlike you, I get max two hummers at any one time. Your photo of the hummer convention is fantastic - wow!

    1. Anna..I only had 2-3 hummers for about six years. I have no idea what happened?! But..they keep hanging around and so now I will need a humming bird sitter should I ever be able to away for a few days. Thanks for visiting! Hope to see you in person soon :)

  7. My gardens have always been pollinator and wildlife gardens. I need my plants to do more than just look pretty. They need to contribute and it's wonderful to see the wildlife ecosystems that develop around them. I'm so glad you're gardening for wildlife, too!


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