How to turn your cottage into a bird sanctuary


Birds aren’t exactly hard to find at the cottage—but sometimes, it’s nice not to have to search for them with a pair of binoculars. Plus, not only are birds fun to watch, they also help control pests around your property. Because birds have relatively simple needs—food, water, shelter, and nesting materials—turning your yard into bird paradise is pretty simple.

Pick the right type of feeder for your birds

There are a ton of different types of feeders out there, but you can likely get away with one or two, depending on what types of birds frequent your area. The standard “hopper” style of bird feeder—the kind that looks like a house, with access points on both sides and a receptacle you fill through the roof—will appeal to most birds, as will a tube feeder. If you’ve got a problem with squirrels, consider buying a hopper with weighted sides, which will tip and cut off access to seeds if anything too heavy hops on board. If you want to attract hummingbirds, nectar feeders are a must-have. If there are lots of goldfinches in your area, a tube-style nyjer seed feeder will attract them. Large birds like woodpeckers and cardinals will enjoy a peanut feeder. In the winter, hang suet outside to give birds an important source of fat.

To help avoid four-legged pests like squirrels and rats under your birdfeeder, and to prevent birds from getting sick by eating fallen seeds, mow under your feeder and mulch the area. Seeds that fall into the mulch will be harder to get at.

Fill those feeders with the right seeds

Bird feed with a mix of seeds is a good option for many different types of birds. Some birds prefer black sunflower seeds, while some—like the goldfinches mentioned above—go batty for nyjer seed. If you’re on a budget, farm feed stores generally have better deals on birdseed than general garden or specialty bird stores.

Provide water

A simple shallow birdbath will provide birds a handy place to drink and bathe. Place it away from surrounding bushes where predators might lurk, but try situating it under low-hanging branches so your birds have an escape route. Since birds like “active” water, consider a fountain rather than standing water. If you’re at the cottage during the winter, you could also add a heater to the birdbath to give your feathered friends a year-round source of water.

Avoid fertilizers and pesticides

Aside from just not being a good idea generally, chemicals in your garden aren’t exactly great for birds or the insects they eat when they’re not gorging themselves on your generous offerings. (Besides, you’re at the cottage—why are you growing things that need pesticides?)

Plant native plants

Birds are in your area for a reason, and it’s because the environment provides them what they need to live. You can help support that by emphasizing native plants in your garden, which will provide year-round food and shelter the way nature intended. If you have invasive species, root them out (literally) as much as possible, since they push out the native plants that actually help keep your birds happy and healthy.

Provide shelter

This isn’t a must-have, since birds are perfectly capable of finding shelter on their own, but if you want to give them a little extra support, consider putting birdhouses out. If you’re going to build your own (it’s not that hard), here’s a chart that shows ideal dimensions for different sizes of birds. Even if you’re not going to provide birdhouses, putting out nesting material is a nice idea: just about anything natural that hasn’t been exposed to chemicals is a good idea. Good options include pine needles, wool, moss, hay, and—somewhat unsettlingly—pet hair and human hair.

Keep dead trees

As long as it’s not likely to fall on the cottage, a dead tree can be a valuable source of shelter and food for cavity-dwelling birds.

Shield your windows

If you’re lucky enough to have windows that look out on your feathered friends, make sure they’re not going to get hurt by flying into the reflective surface. Those black bird-of-prey silhouette cut-outs can work, but if you’re looking for other options, here’s a good list of ideas from the Humane Society.