Organic gardener growing food and flowers, lovin' pollinators and birds.

Songbirds lead to happiness: here's how to attract them

Project Feederwatch offers opportunity to track species in your garden

A garden full of birds is the happiness equivalent of more money in your pocket. Seriously.

A recent study conducted in Europe found that bird diversity leads to overall happiness. The authors of the study, sponsored by German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research, calculated that being around 14 additional bird species provided as much satisfaction as earning an additional $150 a month (or $124 Euros). "Birds are well-suited as indicators of biological diversity, since they are among the most visible elements of the animate nature — particularly in urban areas," according to the study.*

These findings are not surprising. Some of my earliest memories of being outdoors includes feeding birds in our city garden. I've carried this tradition to my own home, where I now have an elaborate feeding station set up on one solitary pole. 

Keeping track of bird visitors in the winter

On the days when I log the number and types of birds that visit my bird feeders for Project FeederWatch, I love having the excuse to be at the window to count and see who visits. Project Feederwatch is a yearly citizen scientist project that spans November through April. In the early days of gardening on my property, I participated for three years in a row, but over time my schedule did not allow me to be home as much to log data for the following years. 

Thanks to COVID-19, our social obligations are nonexistent this year, and I'm rediscovering how much I enjoy taking the time to watch the bird feeders, even on my non-counting days. (On work breaks, I often head to the window to see who is visiting at the moment.)

Over the years I have added a total of six feeders to my bird feeder station in the back garden. I use a raccoon guard on the pole to keep both raccoons and squirrels away from the feeders.

Project FeederWatch is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada, and does include an $18 sign up fee. You select two consecutive days that you plan to observe the birds, and keep track of the totals. I print mine out for each week and then enter the data into my online account when it is convenient. 

The data not only helps Cornell track the type of birds visiting (and if certain birds are sick, such as finches with eye disease), but the memberships allows me to run stats on the birds that visit the property (even drawing on past participation years if I choose), which I really like.  Within the past year, I've had special guests such as rose-breasted grosbeaks and eastern bluebirds stop by while they were passing through the area. 

Here's a sampling of the season so far and which birds have visited on my logging days (six weeks in):

Data I shared with Project FeederWatch is searchable through the online database.

This year I chose Sunday and Monday as my logging days. The timing is flexible (I'm asked how long I watched over the two days and whether it was in the morning or afternoon). My husband has even started to notice the different variety of birds that visit our feeders. When logging data, I could the total number of species I see at one time on my property, whether they be at the feeders, on the ground beneath the feeders, at the heated birdbath, or hanging out in the trees, shrubs or on the fence. (This helps provide a more accurate count of how many individual birds stop by.)

So far this season, we have attracted as many as 18 different types of birds on my logging days. (Remember the study mentioned earlier said happiness was tied to at least 14?) These counts do not include the juvenile Cooper's Hawk that visited the garden or the pair of eastern bluebirds who like to visit the heated birdbath during the week, but now that I am in the habit of looking out the window I still get to experience what is hanging around outside.

A chickadee enjoys the heated birdbath in late November.

Tips for attracting birds to your property

Over the years, I have found that the following offerings attract my success rate for attracting birds.

  • Provide evergreen cover within flying distance from the feeders. The sparrows and finches especially seem to enjoy hanging out in the 'Green Giant' arborvitae while they wait for a turn. (Each year the shrubs grow larger along my property line.)
  • Offer fresh water with a heated birdbath. This is especially important when the temperatures dip below freezing and water is difficult to find. Make sure to keep the water fresh and the bird bath clean.
  • Offer a variety of feeders. Different birds eat seed and suet in different ways, so over the years I have added more feeders to my station. I now offer two suet feeders that provide "tail support" for woodpeckers when they are feeding, two suet cages, a hopper feeder (looks like a little house) which the larger birds such as cardinals like to use, and a seed tube that the smaller birds (like finches) like to use. 
  • Use a squirrel or raccoon baffler on the bird feeder pole to keep both out of your food.
  • Store seed and suet in metal trash cans. I put bricks on top to help keep the squirrels out. I learned the hard way the first year as a homeowner that leaving bags of seed out in the garage only made the mice happy.
  • Different seed attracts different birds, so offering a mixture helps to make everyone happy. If you do not want a lot of seed shells on the ground under the feeder, you can purchase "no mess" or "hulled" seed instead.
  • Add UV reflecting decals to windows to help prevent bird strikes. 

By the way, Project FeederWatch runs through April, so there is still time to sign up for this great citizen science project. 

Two house sparrows take a dip in the heated birdbath on a December morning,

German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. "Biological diversity evokes happiness: More bird species in their vicinity increase life satisfaction of Europeans as much as higher income." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 December 2020. <>.

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