Make your Yard a Haven for Early Nesting Birds

Nikkie West, former Backyard Habitat Certification Program Manager
Stephanie Herman, Wildlife Care Center Manager

Watch carefully and you might see the evidence – early nesting species like hawks, owls, and hummingbirds are already selecting mates and constructing nests! Last year’s first nestling in the wildlife center was a tiny Anna’s Hummingbird who arrived the first week of March. That means expectant bird parents are out there right now in your local yards and parks!

Here at the wildlife care center, we’re keenly aware that baby bird season is right around the corner. We’re working hard to prepare – not only are we in the midst of a minor renovation that will free up much-needed space for the coming busy season, we’re also preparing our seasonal volunteers for our longer summer hours, reviewing procedures, repairing caging, and organizing everything we can reach. It’s a party every day!

The best part is there’s no need to feel left out, because you can join in the fun by making your yard a safe place for nesting birds. That first nestling hummingbird we received last year came in because her nest was destroyed during pruning, followed immediately by a fledgling hummingbird who had been caught by a cat. At the wildlife care center, we take pride in undoing some of the harm that human proximity has done to our wild neighbors. But we’d much rather see fewer birds harmed in the first place, and that means we need your help.

Here are a few key steps you can take now to protect bird families this spring:

Develop a plan to limit your cat’s impact on wildlife. Cat predation is consistently the number one cause of intake at our Wildlife Care Center. It’s their natural instinct. But in a natural system, only a small number of feline predators, like a bobcat, would cover a very large area. Yet in our neighborhoods, hundreds if not thousands of cats are free-roaming, creating a man-made ecological imbalance with devastating consequences. But you can help! 

Keep your cat safely indoors or build a catio. Preventing your cat from hunting wildlife entirely is the most effective step you can take. To learn more, check out our Cats Safe at Home Website developed in partnership with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, Multnomah County Animal Services and the Bonnie L. Hayes Small Animal Shelter.

If you can’t keep your cat completely indoors, you can still reduce the risk it will injure birds. You could:

  • Try to keep cats inside during morning and evening times when birds are most active. 
  • Plan supervised time outside for your kitty; this means allowing your cat to be outside only at times when you’re also outside in the garden. 
  • Outfit your cat with a fashionable, brightly colored Elizabethan collar (for example, the one sold by Birdsbesafe) to alert birds to its presence. This won’t be helpful for young birds that can’t fly away, but it can protect their parents.
  • Walk your cat on a leash. Nothing makes your friends at Bird Alliance of Oregon, and your bird-loving neighbors, happier than seeing cats on leashes! 
Catio Tour 2014
A cat lounges in his catio at the 2014 Catio Tour

Avoid heavy pruning and brush removal during spring nesting season. Removing thickets of invasive vegetation, like blackberry, is important – but timing is everything. Consider leaving brush in place until after nesting season and prune trees during fall and winter months. 

Ease up on clean up! Allow several weeks of warmer temperatures before cutting back last year’s growth and cleaning out your beds. Hundreds of species of arthropods, like insects and arachnids, are overwintering in last year’s dead growth. By postponing clean-up, they can complete crucial parts of their life cycle and, in turn, attract and support baby birds.  

Check out our website for more tips on what to do – and what not to do – if you do find a baby bird this season. Some fledglings may need help, but some may not. Don’t be a kidnapper! Parent birds are the experts at raising their chicks; here at the wildlife care center we only want to take care of the birds that really need us.

Sign up for our Backyard Habitat Certification Program at to learn more about supporting birds in your yard. 

Thanks for protecting your wild neighbors!