If you’re anything like me, you enjoy sitting down with a cup of tea to watch the birds at the feeder.

The finches settle in to their meal at length. The cardinals stop by and stay for a few minutes at a time, alternating between cracking seeds and chasing other birds off the feeder. The chickadees and titmice take one seed at a time and fly off with it. The wrens comb through for bits of cracked seed left behind.

It’s fun to watch the various visitors enjoy your offerings. And it feels good to give the birds a helping hand.

All that said, there are lots of reasons to love living bird feeders. Here are just a few.

Less Work

Plants that feed birds don’t require you to buy and store bags of seed.

They have no hoppers you have to fill and refill for the birds to benefit. Nor do plants require you to try to outsmart squirrels or other feeder poachers.

For the health of the diners they attract, bird feeders should be cleaned every week or two. But you don’t have to worry about that with living bird feeders.

With plants, once the individual “feeder” is empty, the birds move on to a new source. You simply don’t see an unnaturally high concentration of birds in one spot for a prolonged time at plants the way you do with feeders. This results in a less hospitable environment for disease to spread among the very birds that bring us such enjoyment.

More Functionality

Plants that feed birds add beauty to your garden.

Assuming you make choices native to your ecoregion, these plants will also feed insects, some of which will be eagerly gobbled up by birds.

And in due course, there are berries or seeds that the birds can forage on.

But important as food is, plants do more than just feed birds!

They also provide shelter, as well as materials and spots for nesting.


Bags of bird seed have to be harvested, shipped, bagged, and shipped again, most – if not all – of which requires the use of non-renewable resources.

Because ideally, you’re looking at a plant-once-and-be-done proposition, consumption of non-renewable resources is much less of a factor with a bird-friendly garden, even if started with mail-order plants.

Additionally, well-chosen plants will promote bio-diversity as they shade and stabilize the soil, conserving water and mitigating runoff.

Well-sited, plants can even reduce your home’s heating and cooling costs! (If you want to explore that, the best resource I’ve found to date is Energy-Wise Landscape Design by Sue Reed.)

More Bird-Watching Opportunities

Birds will visit a bare yard with a feeder.

But they’ll linger in a yard that also offers:

  • a variety of foraging options
  • places to roost and shelter
  • travel corridors that offer the birds cover while they move about

All of this translates into you getting to see how they really live, not just how they act around the artificial environment of a feeder.

In Conclusion

Now, I’m not anti-feeder. I enjoy feeding the birds myself.

Done wisely, offering supplemental food to our feathered friends can be a real boon, especially in severe weather.

The little flock of bluebirds who visited us every day for a few weeks in late winter gratefully accepted the cornmeal-and-peanut-butter crumbles I cobbled together for them. Maybe those extra calories even helped to save a life or two when the weather turned stormy.

But with all of the advantages of making your entire garden hospitable to feathered friends, why confine yourself to a bird feeder alone?