If your goal is to have more feathered friends visit your Denver backyard, it might be time to make over your property, says Allison Holloran, the executive director of Audubon Rockies and a vice president of National Audubon Society. With an assist from Audubon Rockies’ Habitat Hero program, we help you get started.

Choose Plants That Actually Belong Here

Birds, insects, and plants evolved alongside one another. To wit: A moth caterpillar feasts on mountain mahogany, a shrub common in the foothills. The rose-breasted grosbeak, in turn, craves the moth caterpillar and evolved to seek food in mountain mahogany. If you replace the mountain mahogany in your yard with a plant the moth caterpillar won’t eat, the grosbeak will stop coming around. Visit audubon.org/native plants to enter your ZIP code and learn which bird magnets belong to your area.

Another Way to Flock Together

Planting a variety of flowers, bushes, and trees of differing sizes will attract a wider range of birds, so aim for a blend of colors, textures, and sizes. But too random a layout may backfire. Plant multiple of the same flowers together, so pollinators like hummingbirds can more easily find larger clumps of its food source.

Break Up With Pesticides

If you want birds, you need bugs. So before you purchase your native plants, check with the seller to ensure they haven’t been treated with systemic pesticides, insect-killers that absorb and distribute throughout the plant. Try insecticidal soap instead. The product harnesses fatty acids, not poison, to suffocate bugs that land on the substance. The soap washes away, providing only temporary protection, but it helps give the grower a break without spreading a toxin through, say, the bumblebee population.

Provide Extra Shelter

When predators or a nasty gust of wind come by, birds appreciate a thicket’s cover. Plant a dense hedge or climbing vines; alternatively, build a brush pile (one that’s not too close to your home, in case of fire) by piling thin branches on top of thicker ones, giving ground-dwellers a place to hide.

Don’t Over-Do the Yard Care

Birds prefer a yard that’s slightly unkempt over one that’s pristinely manicured. So let go of your perfectionism. When a cold snap crisps the dead seed heads on annuals, leave them there to feed the birds. Rake leaves under bushes instead of loading them into landfill-bound garbage bags. The decaying material attracts bugs and can be used in nests.

Keep Your Cat Indoors

According to the American Bird Conservancy, cats kill about 2.4 billion birds a year, compared with a billion deaths by glass collision. If your cat likes to be outdoorsy, put them on a leash; otherwise, keep them inside. And treat your windows with one-way transparent film—you can still see out, but the substance erases tempting reflections of trees or sky.

More on Birding in Colorado

Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil is a Denver-based journalist and 5280's former digital senior associate editor.