Habitat Loss is the single greatest cause of decline in populations of native birds. Replicating nature in our home gardens can go a long way towards creating sanctuaries for native birds struggling to survive.

A few design & maintenance considerations:

  • Plant in groups & irregular patterns, as nature does (this increases pollination/fruiting and helps create shelter areas)
  • Include evergreens to provide windbreaks as well as nesting sites and shelter
  • Create “vertical diversity” by mimicking the multiple layers of growth found in natural settings (i.e. Trees / shrubs / vines / perennials trees/lawn)
  • Provide a source of water, year-round
  • Select a variety of fruiting shrubs and trees with berries of various sizes that ripen in different seasons. Include plants that have berries that persist through winter
  • Minimize lawn to reduce pollution caused by mowing and fertilizing
  • Leave dead trees (standing or fallen) on your property to provide insect food for birds as well as cavity nesting sites and perching
  • Leave leaf litter & standing plant material to provide overwintering areas for insects which are a food source for birds. Create brush piles to provide shelter
  • Minimize the use of harsh herbicides & pesticides, which kill insects as well as the birds that feed on them (there are organic alternatives available for most harsh garden pesticides)
  • Keep domestic cats indoors (according to the American Bird Conservancy, outdoor cats kill over 2 billion birds every year)
We need to re-think our attitude towards insects

Another important way we can assist our native birds is by selecting native plants for our home landscape. Research has shown that suburban yards landscaped with native plants host 8 times more native birds than those planted with non-native plants. Native plants are also ideally suited to our climate and soils and are adapted to co-exist with our native insects, which are a critical food source for native birds. Over 95% of land birds feed insects to their chicks, primarily caterpillars. This means we need to re-think our attitudes towards insects in our gardens. Not only are caterpillars infant butterflies & moths but they are also an essential element of our native birds’ diet.

Birds feeding young in nest

Over 95% of land birds feed insects- primarily caterpillars – to their chicks. We need to re-think our attitudes towards insects in our gardens.

Maple Seed

Maple seeds are eaten by many bird species including robins, vireos, warblers, finches and wrens

Native Plants for attracting birds to your garden:

Trees

Oak (Quercus macrocarpa/ bicolor/rubra/ x schuettei)

  • Hosts 532 species of caterpillars of butterflies & moths that birds feed on
  • Acorns are an important food source for many types of birds (as well as many native mammals)
  • Mature trees provide cavity nesting sites

Maple (Acer saccharum/rubrum)

  • Hosts 297 species of caterpillars
  • Summer-through-fall seeds eaten by many bird species including robins, vireos, warblers, finches and wrens

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

  • Fruit is a source of winter food for over 20 species of native birds.
  • Host to several species of larval butterflies & moths
  • Provides shelter/cover and nesting sites (thorns)

Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana)

  • Host to 66 species of butterflies & moths
  • Nutlets are eaten by many birds including cardinals and goldfinches

Poplar (Populus tremuloides)

  • Hosts 365+ species of caterpillars
  • Mature trees provide cavity nesting sites

Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

  • Hosts 235 species of caterpillars
  • Sweet flavored nuts are favored by wildlife

Birch (Betula nigra /glandulifera)

  • Seeds are favored by many native birds, including Pine Siskin, Fox Sparrows & American Tree Sparrows

Juniper (Juniperus virginiana)

  • Fruit is a source of winter food for over 50 species of native birds. Including Cedar Waxwings, Bluebirds & Finches
  • Provides shelter/cover in all seasons

Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

  • Important fall & winter food source for birds, including chickadees, titmice, warblers, nuthatches, woodpeckers and jays
Berries/fruit are an important food source for native birds

Berries are an important part of the diet of wild birds.

Shrubs

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis /pubens)

  • Fruit is mid-season food source for 100+ bird species (including Robin, Cardinal, Brown Eyed Thrasher, Bluebird & Woodpeckers
  • Provides shelter for nesting

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

  • Fruit is winter food source for 20+ bird species (Catbird, Robin, Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Red-Eyed Virio)

Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia / sericea / amomum / racemosa)

  • Fruit eaten by 30+ bird species
  • Hosts over 118 species of caterpillars of butterflies & moths

Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

  • Shelter for nesting
  • Fruit eaten by Cedar Waxwing, Bluebirds & Finches

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

  • Dense growth provides excellent nesting sites

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis

  • Late season showy flowers are popular with many pollinators
  • Flowers attract hummingbirds
  • Persistent fruit is winter food source for ducks and other waterfowl
Buttonbush Flower. Sumac fruit on winter

Left: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a favorite of Hummingbirds.
Right: Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is an important winter food source for native birds.

Monarch on Aster

Aster seeds are eaten by Cardinals, Goldfinches, Sparrows, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Towhees and Indigo Bunting.
Asters also host 112 species of caterpillars of butterflies & moths and are a valuable late season nectar source for beneficial pollinators

Native perennials for attracting birds:

Aster (Aster azurius / ericoides)

  • Seeds eaten by Cardinals, Goldfinches, Sparrows, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Towhees and Indigo Bunting.
  • Hosts 112 species of caterpillars of butterflies & moths
  • Valuable late season nectar source for beneficial pollinators

Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)

  • Hosts 19 species of caterpillars of butterflies & moths
  • Valuable late season nectar source for beneficial pollinators

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum, recently reclassified as Eutrochium maculatum)

  • Seeds eaten by many bird species
  • Hosts 42 species of caterpillars of butterflies & moths
  • Valuable late season nectar source for beneficial pollinators

Aquilegia (Aquilegia canadensis)

  • Funnel shaped red flowers attract hummingbirds

Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

  • Seed is a favorite food of Finches
  • Leaves cup stem and create natural water reservoir for both birds & insects

Purple Coneflower Favorite

  • Seeds are food source for finches

(Echinacea pallida)

  • Seed is a favorite food of finches

Gayfeather/Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)

  • Seeds eaten by finches
  • An important nectar source for native pollinators

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens)

  • Persistent seeds are winter food source
  • Valuable nectar source for beneficial pollinators
Monarch on Eupatorium. Rudbeckia flower.

Left: Joe-Pye-Weed (Eupatorium) seeds are eaten by many bird species, it hosts 42 species of caterpillars of butterflies & moths and is a valuable late season nectar source for beneficial pollinators
Right: Black-Eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia) seeds are a favorite of Finches.

Native Grasses:

All are valuable winter food source for songbirds and provide nesting habitat for ground nesting birds. Host dozens of species of moth & butterfly caterpillars.

  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii)
  • Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heteroles)
  • Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Chasmanthium seeds. Sporobolus.

Left: Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)  Right: Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Grasses are a winter food source for songbirds and provide nesting habitat for ground nesting birds

Supplemental Feeding

Johnson’s Gardens carries an assortment of top quality bird feeders and bird seed for supplemental feeding of wild birds.

More info HERE

birds at feeder

by Zannah Crowe