close up of white breasted nuthatch on tree branch
(Image credit: Ramona Macedonski / 500px / Getty Images)

As a bird lover, it’s impossible to pick just one favorite species that visits my backyard. I can probably select a few, though, if pressed. From raptors to little songbirds to the rarer species, the truth is that I love them all. Creating a space that feeds and shelters birds is the perfect way to ensure they keep coming back.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

This funny little bird is unique for the way it moves up and down tree trunks looking for insects to eat. I work at a desk by a window and outside is a medium-sized walnut. Most months of the year I see nuthatches on the trunk. They move up and down in circles and upside down, sticking their bills into the bark crevices to fund food.

Rarer in my area is the red-breasted nuthatch. I have seen a few over the years. Both species are small with white, gray, and black coloring and a pointy, sharp bill. The red-breasted variety has reddish coloring on its chest. Attracting these birds requires no effort from me. They come for the trees, which are plentiful in my yard.

Cooper’s Hawk

Much grander in size and more dramatic are the hawks that grace my garden. As a bird lover, they leave me conflicted. The species I see most often is the Cooper’s hawk, a smaller hawk that eats songbirds. When they’re hanging around, I don’t get other birds at my feeder. Nonetheless, they are fun to see. One year, I had at least six juveniles nesting somewhere nearby and screeching through my garden all day long.

Red-tailed hawks are also regulars in my area, but they don’t visit the garden very often. They tend to soar high in the sky, swooping down in more open areas to grab prey. Cooper’s hawks fly low and flit between trees and branches as they hunt little birds.

Tufted Titmouse

This is a little songbird that shows up to my feeders less frequently than cardinals, sparrows, and chickadees. It’s a favorite bird of mine for one simple reason: it's adorable. Tufted titmice look like a stuffed animal version of a songbird. They have a rounder shape than other birds with big black eyes and a cute little crest on the top of their heads. Also, they make a sweet, chirpy call that always reminds me of warmer weather.

Tufted titmice live in my area year-round, but they are a little more shy than other small species. To encourage more to show up and stick around, I put out their favorite foods: sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet.


A few years ago, my neighbor complained about the sound a woodpecker was making in her backyard. She found the repetitive knocking of its bill against the tree annoying and disruptive. I can see her point. It’s not as nice a sound as the call of a songbird, but nevertheless I do enjoy woodpeckers in the garden. They come for the suet and nut feeders in particular.

The most common species that come to my suet and nut feeders are red-bellied and downy woodpeckers. The downy is quite small and easy to miss. It’s not as showy as other species with just a little tuft of red feathers on the top of the male’s head. The red-bellied woodpecker is a little bigger and has a bright red crown.

The woodpeckers I see less often are a real treat to spot. The male of the red-headed species has a deep red head with all over color set strikingly against a white chest and belly and black back.

Even less common in my garden is one of my absolute favorite birds: the pileated woodpecker. This is the biggest species and the one that inspired Woody. I have only seen a couple of these, but they are spectacular. They are large and have a big, pointy bill and impressive red crest, unlike any other bird that visits my yard.

All bird species are welcome in my garden. I even have a hard time summoning up negative feelings for the non-native house sparrows. With plenty of winter foods, a few areas left natural, and native plants, any garden will attract and host a diverse array of native species.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.