Here’s the secret: If you’re wondering how to attract more birds to your backyard, start with bugs.

Birdwatching in your backyard is fun, but it can be truly rewarding when you provide healthy bird habitats, according to Cheryl Gross, president of Plant it Wild. Based in Benzie and Manistee counties, the Northern Michigan nonprofit is dedicated to creating better wildlife environments by educating the public about native plants.

Providing the right food environment is key to attracting birds, Cheryl says. That means going beyond feeders and including native plants in your yard—plants that are rich in berries, seeds and bugs.

“When you’re landscaping for birds, it’s best to landscape for insects,” she says. “Ninety-eight percent of baby birds are fed insects, not seeds. You need a garden in the spring that is jam-packed with bugs and caterpillars.”

Berries are also on the menu, but not just any berries. “Birds like berry-producing plants, but it’s very important you use native plants because the nutrition is very different,” Cheryl says. Non-native, berry-producing plants have higher sugar and lower carb content compared to native plants, which have higher carb and fat content, both of which birds need.

Cheryl’s Best Berries: Elderberry and Highbush Cranberry

Then there are seeds, and again, not just any seeds. “Echinacea has wonderful seed heads in the fall that are good for adults preparing to fly south,” Cheryl says. Ultimately though, having bugs is the most important component, Cheryl adds, and that means having the right trees.

Cheryl’s Trusted Trees: Cherry, Willow and Birch

And if you truly want to help birds that visit your yard thrive, don’t spray for mosquitos or other insects. These bugs are necessary for the bird population and a healthy environment, Cheryl explains. “If we let it be and we plant the right plants, well create balance.”

Tips on How to Attract More Birds

Put out mealworms in the spring. Choose a tray that can hang from your bird feeder; some feeders come with a tray, but if yours doesn’t, there are many to choose from. Fill the tray with either live or dry mealworms.

Provide shelter for birds by planting conifers and evergreens. “It’s nice to have a pine or cedar tree on your property so birds can seek shelter during storms,” Cheryl says. Pine tree branches are also ideal for nesting.

What about water? “Birdbaths are good to have. Misters and fountains are nice if you want to sit and enjoy the birds, but you don’t need the fancy stuff,” Cheryl adds.

Online Resources

Cheryl acknowledges it can be intimidating to decide what plants to buy. Nursery employees are very knowledgable, but she recommends knowing the plant’s Latin name, too—this guarantees you’ll get the right one. Visit these websites to learn more:

Plant it Wild

Michigan Flora

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Where to Buy Native Plants


Peninsula Perennial Nursery | 7740 N. Swede Rd., Northport

Four Season Nursery | 7557 Harrys Rd., Traverse City

Misty Ridge Greenhouse | 6171 N. 11 Rd., Mesick

Greystone Gardens | 9875 Manning Rd., Honor


Birdsfoot Native Nursery | 4276 Woodman Rd., South Boardman

Conservation Districts

Many of our conservation districts, such as Grand Traverse Conservation District, have native plant sales in the spring, offering reasonably priced plants.