Wild Bird Watching Fast Start – Providing Birds’ Four Basic Needs

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start – Providing Birds’ Four Basic Needs

Wild bird watching in my backyard is one of my favorite activities!  My enjoyment of the wild birds I see in my daily life is immense.  Furthermore, I’m sure you enjoy the birds that you see daily well!

Obviously, I can’t address everything about backyard wild bird watching in one blog post, but I can give some hints for a fast start.  Initial backyard bird watching does not need to be time consuming, difficult or particularly expensive.  In fact, if you can avoid some common beginners’ slipups, it should be quick and fun.


I’ll be covering the basics, so you can have a backyard that is wild bird friendly from the start.  I didn’t know the four basic needs of wild birds up front when I started, so I worked from trial and error.  You can stack the cards in your favor with this information, so let’s get started.

Four Basic Wild Bird Needs

Whether wild birds are enjoying your backyard feeders, or living 100% on natural food sources, there are four basic things they always need.

  1. Number one is food, whether it is provided by feeders placed by backyard wild bird watchers, or from natural sources of food.
  2. Water closely follows food as a basic need, and it must be clean.
  3. Third is shelter for protection from predators.
  4. And finally, they need a place to nest and keep their young safe.

You need to be aware of and address all four needs for a long term, consistently successful backyard wild bird watching experience. There are several options on how to provide for each of the four basics needs.  You just need to decide what best fits your yard.  If you provide the four basic needs of the birds, the birds will find your bird feeders and bird baths.

Food and Feeders for Backyard Wild Bird Watching

Beginning bird watchers often providing only bird feeders at first, which is OK and a good place to start!  Bird feeders alone will attract some birds. Indeed, the most common way to attract birds to a backyard for wild bird watching is through their stomachs.  However, with each of the other four basic needs you provide, your success soars.

For a fast start, you should keep it simple at first and only have one or two bird feeders.  Other feeders can be added later.  The most common bird feeders you may want to consider are:

Hopper or Ranch Feeders

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start-Hopper Feeder
Hopper Bird Feeder, Photo: by Penny Gumulja, CC Free Images

They often look like a house or barn.  Because these feeders tend to be large and easy to land on, large birds like blue jays and cardinals, as well as small, can dine at there.  Consequently, a hopper feeder is a good beginner’s bird feeder because it attracts multiple kinds of birds.  Using mixed bird seed with sunflower seeds works well with them.

Tube Feeders

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start - Tube Feeder
Tube Feeder, Photo: by KFJ Miller, CC Free Images

If you wish to attract smaller birds such as chickadees, finches, sparrows and wrens, tube feeders work great.  The tube feeders have several perches along the length of the vertical hanging bird feeder.  Offer chips of shelled sunflower seeds and nuts, or mixed bird seed, but beware that any unshelled sunflower seeds are not too large for the openings.

Ground or Tray Feeders

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start - Tray Feeder
Tray Feeder, Photo: CC Public Domain Pictures

Some birds prefer to find seeds and bugs on the ground.  You can just scatter feed on the ground for them.  Also, you can offer them a ground feeder or a hanging tray feeder.  Mixed seed will work well and larger birds, such as doves, like them.

Cage Feeders

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start - Sparrow on Cage Feeder
Suet Cage Feeder, Photo: by Steve Voght, CC Wikimedia

Suet cakes are often offered in cage feeders, as are seed cakes and dried mill worm cakes.  Bird like suet for the high fat content and the energy they provide in the winter, per Birds and Blooms’ blog, Feed Birds Every Season.  Dried mill worm cakes may sound gross to us, but all my birds love them!  It is the one food that fits all.  Also, I like seed cakes because less seed is knocked to the ground than from loose seed feeders, and therefore I have less weeds and sunflowers growing in my lawn.

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start - Nectar Feeder
Nectar Feeder, Photo: CC Public Domain Pictures

The nectar feeder is probably the most well know feeder because it is the bird feeder of hummingbirds!  Nectar feeders, AKA hummingbird feeders, meet the needs of other birds too, such as orioles.

Water for Your Backyard Wild Birds

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start-Bird Bath
Bird Bath, Photo: CC Pixabay

Don’t forget birds need water. If water is not readily available, such as a pond, a lake or even a public fountain, you must provide it for them. Small birdbaths are inexpensive. Graduating to a fountain can range from slightly more expensive to very expensive.

Always be sure your birdbath is clean of bird leavings and bits of food. The Cornell Lab’s blog, All About Birds, indicates that contaminated make the birds sick.  I check my birds’ water daily to be sure it is clean.  Not only do I top off the water level daily, but also empty and refill my birdbaths a couple of times a week as well.  If the water looks soiled, I immediately replace the water with fresh, clean water.

Shelter From Preditors

If you want to do some wild bird watching in your backyard, the birds need a habitat with cover for protection from predators. Cats catch more birds more than any other animal.   Hawks dive from above to catch their dinner, perhaps from your backyard feed station. Your wild birds need somewhere to flee when danger is present. Brush or dense shrubs near feeders provide some cover from both cats and hawks. Likewise, tress make it harder for the hawks to see their prey and give the birds a place to flee.  Don’t put bird feeders too close to fences in order to keep cats from jumping on them.

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start-Native Cover
Feeder wit Native Cover, Photo by Bruno99 CC Free Images

A Place to Nest

Birds build their nest and raise their young in many different places. Some prefer somewhere protected on the ground. Other build their nests up higher. If you have an undeveloped area near you, your wild birds may use it for nesting. If not, you may need to provide for their nesting needs. Shade trees and shrubs may help the birds find a nesting area. Brush also can meet these needs. Sometimes, people provide bird houses for the birds to nest in, but that is a little more advanced because you must get the right size bird house for the bird you want to nest in it.

My Backyard Wild Bird Watching

I started with a small ground feeder outside my patio.  Then I added a tube feeder.  After that, I graduated to a hopper feeder.  Next, a hummingbird feeder finally made the scene.  It was a while before I discovered cage feeders and the different kinds of cakes for them.

Now, ten types of birds regularly visit my backyard all summer for my wild bird watching fun, and most stay for the mild Texas winter.


Not only am I familiar with my birds’ personalities, but I also get to watch their courting and weaning of the young-uns.    Backyard wild bird watching is incredibly fun and easy, since I can do it from my recliner.  I have a feeding station outside my den window, and another at my kitchen window/patio.

Providing for the Four Basic Needs in My Backyard

Wild Bird Watching Fast Start- Bird Feeding Station
JoAnn’s Kitchen/Patio Bird Feeding Station with 5 Bird Feeders and Water Fountain

In my yard, the four basics needs of my wild birds are met in the following ways:

Two Feeding Stations for My Backyard Wild Bird Watching

  • Food is provided by multiple bird feeders offering several kinds of seed and nectar.  They include a hopper feeder, tray feeder, tube feeder, covered dish feeder, stacker feeder, a finch thistle sock feeder, two cage feeders and two nectar feeders.  As you’ll probably notice, there are a few types of feeders not mentioned above.  To attain a fast start, we need to focus on the most common feeders that serve multiple types of birds.
  • Fresh Water comes from a shallow bird bath, as well as a fountain as part of the feed stations.

Shelter and a Place to Nest

  • Shelter is provided by flowering plants around the feeding stations and the edges of the yard. Also, a large tree hangs over my back fence and some of the feeders.  It offers cover and a place to flee.
  • Nesting Places are available in the undeveloped area behind my fence, with plants that are native to my area.

Fast Start Backyard Wild Bird Watching

This blog post is intended to be a quick start to backyard wild bird watching. Meeting the four basic needs of the wild birds in your area will attract them to your backyard. Be sure to put your bird feeders where you can enjoy watching your birds.

Choose a couple of bird feeders you think fit your yard and will attract the birds you want to watch.  Add a bird bath or other water.  Find a place to put them, keeping protection from predators in mind, as well as the birds nesting needs, and you are ready to start your backyard wild bird watching.


There are benefits from wild bird watching and feeding, ranging from benefits for bird watchers and birds to social benefits and more.

Have fun! That’s what backyard wild bird watching is about!


What do you think of Bird Watching Made Easy?  Do you have a question, or something you would like to learn in future posts?  Are there pictures or stories you would like to share from your birding experience? Leave comments below and I promise to respond to every comment timely!

All the best,


Founder of Bird Watching Made Easy

Facebook Posts

This message is only visible to admins:
Unable to display Facebook posts

Error: Error validating access token: The session has been invalidated because the user changed their password or Facebook has changed the session for security reasons.
Type: OAuthException
Code: 190
Subcode: 460
Click here to Troubleshoot.
Please follow and like us:

6 Replies to “Wild Bird Watching Fast Start – Providing Birds’ Four Basic Needs”

  1. Quite an interesting read! I live in the Philippines and every now and then we get to see exotic birds pass by where we live. But I’ve never had the chance to prepare the right equipment for a proper bird watching experience. This could be a new experience for me and my wife, she’s quite fond of animals.

    1. Mike,

      Great to hear from the Phillippines!  

      Welcome to bird watching!  Feeding and watching birds is incredibly fun.  I get so excited when I see my regular bird visitors, much less new or unusual birds.  

      There is not only guidance on equipment and bird watching in this article, Wild Bird Watching Fast Start – Providing Birds’ Four Basic Needs, but also through out the blog.

      Just jump into bird watching nonw, and let me know how your bird watching is going.

      ~ JoAnn

  2. Great insight on Bird watching. I intend to join a nature club that does bird watching once every week but did not have much knowledge on birds except what I read on the birds books. Your articles have given me a good start, right from my backyard. Do I need to have big trees or just food and clean water will do for a start.

    1. Hey Anita,

      It sound like you have some fun bird in the plans  Good for you!

      Bird feeders and water are a good start!  A fast start is alway encouraging.

      If you have a big tree, that is nice.  However, you can’t grow one overnight.  Dense brush is helpful, or shrubs.  Cats tend to hide under shurbs, so you might watch in case some start to hang around.  Also, old limbs with leaves, or even a leftover christmas tree in the season, make good cover.

      I would suggest, either/or both, high quality mixed bird seed and black oil sunflower seeds.   Mixed seeds labeled as “no waste” bird food, which contains shelled sunflower seeds, peanuts, cracked corn and millet, is a good choice. 

      Enjoy your birds and your nature group!

      Thanks ~ JoAnn

  3. Hi JoAnn,
    I’m happy I found your website to know more about backyard bird watching and attracting.
    My husband and I live in the country in Canada, so we have all kind of birds in our backyard, some really small and some good size but all of them are fun to watch.
    We use to set a bird feeder during winters to help birds keep going during the long and cool winter Canadian weather.
    The only problem we have here is Blue Jays getting all the sunflower seeds all the time, hard to keep them away from the feeders.

    1. Hi Alejandra,

      It’s great to hear from Canada!!

      Blue Jays are beautiful, but can be bullies at the bird feeder. Blue Jays and Mourning Doves both are a problem at my feeders.  I have some bird feeders for smaller birds that the Jays can’t land on, such as tube feeders, small tray feeders with domes and cage feeders.  Since Jays, Doves and Cardinals all like tray feeders, I put their favorite foods, large seeds (like sunflower) and nuts, on a try feeder for them.  I can put smaller seeds on a tray feeder for other birds, and the Jays will stay with the larger seeds they prefer.

      Thank you for your comments.  I’m so glad you found Bird Watching Made Easy, and I hope you continue to enjoy it.

      ~ JoAnn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *