The Basic Elements of Habitat

  • Food: seeds, nectar, insects, fruits, and berries
  • Water: bird bath, fountain, water feature, stream/pond, sprinkler
  • Cover/shelter: thickets/hedges, dense shrubs, rock pile, brush pile, birdhouse, evergreens/conifers
  • A place to raise young: trees, large dense shrubs, tall grasses, dead branches/stumps, pond, nesting box; many places for cover may also be used as locations to raise young.

Providing an area that is natural or “messy” can encourage more habitat; leaf-litter creates prime bird foraging conditions for insects and worms. Allow some fallen leaves to remain underneath mature trees/shrubs. Reduce chemical usage when possible, and use organic controls and integrated pest management practices to protect the health of wild birds, pollinators, and their food sources.

Trees for Food & Shelter

Multi-storied/layered canopy is best.

Dogwood* (northern flicker, hermit thrush, cedar waxwing, warbling vireo, purple finch), Crabapple*, Vine maple*,  Oregon white oak*, Western red cedar* (thrushes, pine grosbeak, red-breasted nuthatch), Western hemlock*, Mountain hemlock*, Douglas fir*

*indicates native selection availability

Shrubs for Food & Shelter

Flowers: Camellia (fall/winter-blooming Camellia sasanqua), Hardy fuchsia, Azalea*, Red-flowering currant* (flowers and berries), Hibiscus, Spiraea*, Weigela, Lilac, Butterfly bush, Flowering quince, Oceanspray*, Ceanothus* (white-crowned sparrow, song sparrow, Western bluebird)

Seeds/Berries: Salmonberry*, Elderberry* (robin, western bluebird), Serviceberry*, Twig dogwood*, Oregon grape* (flowers & berries), Pacific wax myrtle* (black-capped chickadee, hermit thrush, scrub jay), Indian plum*, Huckleberries* (flowers & berries), Viburnum, Barberry, Ilex (holly), Cotoneaster, Burning bush, Snowberry* (robin, cedar waxwing, pine grosbeak), Pyracantha, Cotoneaster, Skimmia, Rhamnus/buckthorn, Ninebark* (American goldfinch, yellow warbler)

Vines for Food & Shelter

Scarlet runner-bean (annual), Morning glory (annual), Trumpet vine, Clematis, Honeysuckle*, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper

Perennials for Food & Shelter

Flowers: Abutilon/flowering maple, Columbine*, Bleeding heart*, Coral bells*, Lavender, Lobelia, Bee balm, Penstemon*, Cape-fuchsia, Agastache, Hosta, Hardy fuchsia, Oregano, Catmint, Salvia

Seeds: Rudbeckia/Black-eyed Susan (goldfinches), Coneflowers, Asters, Goldenrod, Japanese anemone, Asclepias/Butterfly milkweed

Annuals/Tender Perennials for Food & Shelter

Cuphea/Batface, Vermillionaire, Cigar plant, Fuchsia, Nicotiana, Calendula, Sunflowers, Zinnias, Amaranth… so much more!

Groundcovers for Food & Shelter

Beach strawberry*, Shore juniper, Kinnikinnick*, Wintergreen*, Salal*, Creeping raspberry, Bunchberry/Cornus canadensis

This list is just a starting point and mentions many favorites of our Dennis’ 7 Dees’ staff. When in doubt, go with native plants!

Tips to Avoid Destroying Nests & Nesting Habitat

Depending on the food supply, most songbirds will attempt to nest two, three, or even more times during the nesting season. Some species will be nesting until middle or late summer.

Consider postponing your mowing until nesting season is over if your property contains or is next to large grassy, wetland, riparian, or meadow areas. If you have dead trees that don’t pose an immediate safety hazard, you might want to leave them as snags or wildlife trees. Wait until late summer/early fall to have trees limbed or trimmed, as dead or thick branches provide great nesting habitat. Hold off on major pruning of shrubs until nesting season is over, or at least carefully check for nests before pruning.

If you find a bird nest, do not touch the nest, eggs or nestlings. If you find a bird on the ground, leave it alone. The parent birds know where it is and are probably watching and feeding it. For assistance with an injured bird, call the Audubon Society.

Get Certified

It’s easy with the help of the Backyard Habitat Certification Program for Washington, Clackamas, Multnomah, and Clark Counties! Dennis’ 7 Dees is a partner of this program, which is over 6000 strong, and growing every day.

There are many programs available to provide guidelines and help you plan for your backyard habitat. National Wildlife Federation and the Portland Audubon Society both have excellent certification programs. For more information go to:

Portland lies in a critical spot along the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migration corridor for millions of birds. We are one of seven cities nationwide to sign an Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, committing to protecting habitat and promoting bird-friendly measures.

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