house finch

The house finch is a common western Washington songbird.

Make your garden sing!

Your garden is a refuge for you and your family. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could hear the sweet melody of songbirds while you’re enjoying your yard?

Many species of songbirds are declining due to habitat loss. You can easily create songbird-friendly habitat in your own backyard by providing three things: water, food and shelter.


A birdbath or pond provides a place for birds to bathe in and drink from. Make sure it is safe, with some cover for birds but without dense cover for cats to hide in and ambush birds. Keep nearby plants pruned low, or simply plant groundcover in that area. Change the water often to keep it fresh and clean.


The best source of food for most birds is insects.

  • Plant nectar-producing plants that will attract insects. Many of these plants attract beneficial insects, which will also help keep problem insects in check.
  • Leave some leaf litter. This attracts more insects into the area for the birds to feed on.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides which can kill birds or the insects they eat.

Bird feeders: mixed reviews

Many people add bird feeders to their yard. This provides a great opportunity to observe birds up close, but feeders may also spread salmonellosis disease. If you choose to feed birds, consider the following:

  • Use tube feeders to reduce droppings that can spread disease. If you use platform feeders, provide only a day’s worth of seed at a time.
  • Clean and disinfect feeders at least once a month with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts warm water. Rinse and dry disinfected feeders thoroughly before re-filling.
  • Pick up spilled food or waste from the ground at least once a week.
  • Discard feed that is wet, looks or smells moldy, has fungus on it or has been contaminated by rodents.
  • Pay attention to bird safety, as with birdbaths.
  • Wear gloves when handling birds, feeders, bird baths or droppings, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.


Birds need places for refuge and nesting.

  • Plant a wide array of shrubs and trees in different sizes and heights to attract diverse bird species.
  • Leave snags (dead trees) if they are not safety hazards. Cavity-nesting birds have been especially impacted by urban development. Make sure the tree is not a safety hazard. Bird houses can provide a substitute home if a snag is not available.
  • Dead branches provide perches for birds to survey their surroundings. They also make it easier to view birds in summer.

Beware the cat!

There is no bigger threat to birds than the domesticated cat. Cats kill millions of songbirds every year, so be vigilant of cats prowling your sanctuary. Keep feeders, birdbaths and nesting areas out of their reach. This is especially important for birds that nest and feed on the ground.

Discourage unwanted wildlife guests

Non-native birds such as the house sparrow and starlings compete with native birds for nesting areas and food. Cover any openings under the eaves or other places around your house where house sparrows and starlings might be able to nest. Design and manage bird houses and feeders to reduce their use by sparrows and starlings.

Become a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary

Read more from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife about encouraging songbirds and other wildlife. Your home could become an official Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary.




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