When looking to attract birds to your yard, three main considerations are important to keep in mind: food, water and shelter. It's the same across the animal kingdom, including for humans roaming suburban grocery store aisles. Despite the simplicity of these basic needs, other components play into drawing birds to an area, with color being an important factor. Planting plants and flowers with certain colors may affect what species of birds call a backyard home.
Birds and Color
A quick look at plumage tells us avian inclinations are swayed by certain hues: the boldly red cardinal, striking blue jay and bright little goldfinch all rely on color to attract mates. So too does the plant kingdom use bright colors to attract birds to branch or blossom, with recent studies suggesting some plants evolved intensely colored leaves and flowers to secure birds as pollinators in the face of shifting insect populations.
Hummingbirds and Red
Hummingbirds, often called “flying jewels” for their resplendent plumage, are well known to prefer the color red, with crimson being the standard color of hummingbird feeders. Nature is aware of this preference as well, with many plants using red flowers to bring the quick-winged birds in for a delicious (and pollinating) meal; bee balm, cardinal flower, trumpet vine and red-hot poker (also known as torch-lily) are all red-flowered plants that hummingbirds can't resist.
Other plants attract birds with bright colors, though it's not blooms these plants use but fruit, a necessary tool for seed dispersal: birds eat berries when they are at their brightest (and thereby ripest), ingesting seeds for deposit later in a different area, ensuring a hearty, widespread plant population. Red is, once again, a color of choice (apples, cherries, raspberries), but blue blueberries and dark purple blackberries also signal birds to come and dine in a certain yard.
A Safe Hideaway
Though bright color is a key component in getting birds to feed in one yard over another, whether by bloom or berry, color also plays a role in another of the three essential survival considerations: shelter. With their bright plumage, birds can attract predators as well as mates. Dull colors like brown and gray, though less obviously pleasing than vibrant florals, also attract birds seeking safe refuge, and woody, broadleafed shrubs and bushes are an open invitation, especially to quail and doves, to come hang out in a safe place.
Rodney Wilson is owner and manager of Goldfinch Farm in central Kentucky, where he oversees veterinary and management practices for a diverse group of animals, from dogs and cats to pigs and chickens. He's written professionally since 2001, with articles appearing in such publications as The Cincinnati Enquirer, CiN Weekly, Baby Guide and Akron Life.