Longing to attract birds of all varieties to your yard? These 7 plants, trees, and ideas will help you bring all the birds to your garden!
7 plants that will attract birds to your yard
Bird feeders filled with seed and suet can attract some wild birds to your yard and provide them with an extra food source provided that the feeders are refilled often and don’t get raided by local squirrels and other critters.
If you’re looking to attract an even greater variety of birds and provide a home for them, one of the most effective things you can do is landscape with plants that will offer birds food, nesting habitat and shelter year round.
“Only a fraction of the birds that are on a property will benefit from feeders,” said Stephen Kress, vice president for bird conservation of the National Audubon Society. “If people really want to do something helpful for birds, then planting native plants is a really good direction to go.”
Native plants — or plants that are indigenous to your area — tend to attract a greater variety of insects than non-native plant species. And more insects mean more birds.
“You can’t talk about birds without talking about insects,” said Becca Rodomsky-Bish, nest record archivist for The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “About 98 percent of nesting songbirds feed their babies insects during the nesting season.”
Native plants have evolved with the insects in your geographic area, developing complex relationships over time, explained Rodomsky-Bish.
In comparison, plants imported from Europe and other places don’t have any established ties with local fauna and therefore tend to attract far fewer insects, which makes them less attractive and helpful to birds.
Other plant characteristics to consider when planting for birds is whether or not the plant provides fruit, nuts or seeds that birds can harvest at different times of the year.
Also, some plants are helpful to birds because their structure provides good shelter, nesting spots or places to perch and sing.
When landscaping for birds, the types of plants you select will depend largely on your region and what native plants thrive there.
That being said, the following are a few especially bird-friendly plants you may want to consider that grow throughout much of the country:
1. Oak trees
“Evidence suggests that oaks support the largest diversity of insects, and because of that, they can support larger populations of birds,” Rodomsky-Bish said.
More specifically, oaks attract a wide variety of butterfly and moth caterpillars, which birds prize as protein-packed meals for their young.
“People who care about birds need to accept this concept that we want more insects on plants and little holes in leaves, that it’s a good thing,” Kress said.
In addition, oaks produce acorns, which are eaten by birds with large bills, such as blue jays, crows, ravens and woodpeckers.
2. Berry-producing shrubs
“When you look at the average neighborhood, it’s really the middle story, the shrubbery, that’s missing, and it’s arguably one of the most important layers [of habitat] for a lot of birds, both for nesting and food,” Rodomsky-Bish said.
Native berry-producing shrubs that Rodomsky-Bish recommends include elderberry, dogwood, sumac, chokecherry, serviceberry, winterberry and holly.
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3. Crabapple Trees
Native to much of the U.S., the crabapple tree is an excellent source of food for overwintering birds, Rodomsky-Bish said.
Many crabapples remain on the branch throughout the winter and continue to be edible through early spring, when other food sources can be scarce, especially in colder regions of the country.
4. Evergreen Trees
A wide variety of trees are evergreen, including species of pine, spruce, cedar and fir. These trees don’t shed their leaves in the winter, which makes them ideal shelter year round.
“In the summer, evergreens can provide shade, and in the winter, they provide good storm cover,” Kress said.
Evergreens are also favored by many birds for nesting habitat because their foliage tends to be dense and therefore conceals them from predators.
Kress suggests planting evergreens on the north side of your house where they can block winter winds, and planting deciduous trees on the south side of the house where they can provide shade in the summer but will drop their leaves to allow sunlight through during the winter.
5. Dead Trees
“Dead snags should be protected wherever possible, as long as they aren’t too close to the house,” Kress said. “They help attract woodpeckers.”
In a search for insects, woodpeckers drill holes in dead trees, and these holes are often used by other birds as nesting cavities.
6. Sunflowers and Other Seedy Flowers
While all native flowers attract insects that can be feasted on by birds, some flowers are especially beneficial to birds because they produce an abundance of nutritious seeds.
Sunflowers and native false sunflowers are great examples of this, as are black-eyed susans, Rodomsky-Bish said.
Echinacea is another flower that produces seeds that birds like, and the plant holds onto the seeds for a long time, which gives birds plenty of opportunities to harvest them — if you leave the dead flowers on the plant.
“As soon as you deadhead something, you’ve basically taken the seeds out of the ecosystem for the birds,” Rodomsky-Bish said.
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7. Meadows and Groundcover
Well-manicured lawns don’t serve many purposes for wild birds, Kress said. But if you let your lawn grow up, the tall grasses and wildflowers can provide shelter for ground-nesting birds.
Meadows also attract pollinators, and if the plants are left to mature (rather than being mowed down), they’ll produce seeds that birds can eat.
Another alternative to a close-cropped lawn (which is usually composed of non-native grasses) is native ground covers such as wild blueberries, bearberry and creeping (or trailing) blackberry.
Kress said that having low-lying plants as well as taller plants is important in creating a bird-friendly yard. To birds, these layers of habitat matter.
“It’s not just what you plant, it’s how you plant it,” he said. “It’s much more useful to birds to try to mimic natural plant communities than planting isolated plants.”
Kress suggests planning out your yard so that the tallest plants are along the edges, with plants becoming shorter as you work your way toward your house.
“People should be trying to make the habitat look functional birds,” he said, “and by functional, it should provide food and shelter and nesting opportunities and singing perches. All of these things are really important to a bird.”
About the Author:
Aislinn Sarnacki is a staff writer for HelloHomestead.com.