According to the Audubon Society, birdwatching is the number one sport in America; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 51.3 million people nationwide enjoy this popular pastime. Best of all, you can participate right from your home -- all it takes is some information about what birds want and how you can provide it.
Like other animals, birds need food, water, shelter, and safe places to rear their young. A landscape with a diversity of plant types ? trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses ? will help feed, shelter, and protect a range of birds. Seed-eaters such as goldfinches like sunflowers, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and thistle. Hummingbirds thrive on bright nectar-producing flowers, such as bee balm, columbine, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, and sage. Shrubs and trees with berries, fruits, nuts, or sap, such as raspberry, blueberry, pecan, and oak, are another key food source for many species. Think in three dimensions and create a landscape with multiple levels -- tall trees, shrubs, groundcovers. Even in small yards, you can entice birds with a small fruiting tree, some fruit-bearing shrubs, and a few different types of flowers.
Break up large expanses of lawn with island plantings of shrubs and flowers. Brush piles and unmowed areas provide cover for ground nesters. A consistent supply of water, especially during droughts and during the winter months, will attract all sorts of avian visitors. A birdbath with a special submersion heater for winter months is a good choice.
Choose at least some plants that are native to your region, since they're most likely to provide native birds with the resources they need. And minimize the use of pesticides -- many birds feed primarily on insects -- everything from caterpillars to mosquitoes, aphids, and mites. Garden plants are an important source of insects for the birds, and the birds will help control insect populations.
Feeders and nesting boxes will also lure birds to your landscape. Research the types of birds in your area and what kinds of feeders and nesting sites they prefer and provide them. Then get out the binoculars and enjoy!