Plants for Backyard Birds
Encourage birds to nest in your yard by planting a habitat garden featuring their favorite plants
Backyard birds are an indicator of a healthy yard. They pollinate and scatter seeds as they travel. They also eat insect pests. Unfortunately, many common bird populations are declining due to development and deforestation. Domestic cats are a problem for native birds, too. Audubon at Home suggests keeping cats indoors and supporting local cat roaming ordinances.
To encourage birds to visit and nest, grow native plants that provide them with the food they crave and the cover they need. Here are seven of the Audubon Society's Birds to Help, and some plants they like.
This midsummer annual features bright yellow blooms in the mid-late summer, and sizable green foliage. The rapid growers offer an abundance of seed for backyard birds and are known to repel deer. Cardinals, jays, sparrows, and doves are fans. Sunflowers can reach heights of 8-10 feet. Zones 3-8
The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) breeds and winters in the eastern United States through the central part of the country. Look for all red plumage in male birds and yellowish-tan feathers on females. Length is 8-9 inches and wingspan is 10-12 inches. Eating habits are similar to the Cedar Waxwing, with a bulk of their diet including seeds and fruit.
This perennial shrub features white blooms in the late spring and dark green, glossy foliage. The drought-tolerant fruiting plant is a favorite of Cedar Waxwings. A rapid grower, it can grow to a height of 8 feet. Zones 5-8
The Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) songbird is caramel-colored with black bands around the eyes, gray wings, and a gray tail with bright yellow tip. At their largest, the birds are 6½-8 inches in length with a wingspan of 9-12 inches. These birds travel in flocks, breeding and spending winters across Canada through the United States and into Central America. They eat small insects, some flower petals, and small berries.
These perennials feature bright yellow blooms in the late summer and aromatic foliage. They can grow up to 6 feet and can thrive in partial shade-full sun. Goldenrod will attract sparrows, grosbeaks, bobwhites, juncos, and other seed-eating birds. Zones 4-8
The Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) is the most common American songbird with a widespread range throughout North America. Look for a brown, streaked back, pale, spotted belly, and a large dark spot in the chest area. Typically measure 5-7 inches long with a wingspan of 7-9 inches. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, some California subspecies are currently vulnerable to habitat loss and are listed as a special concern.
Chickadees have a diverse diet including insects like caterpillars and spiders, along with the fruits and seeds of everything from poison ivy to hardy honeysuckle. Eastern Hemlock is a good native option. This conifer will serve as a source evergreen cover for chickadees and other birds. The perennial tree features dark green, dense foliage and will provide plenty of seed for native birds. Zones 3-7
The Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) saw a population decline with the onset of West Nile virus in 2002. You can identify the bird primarily by its range: these fly in the Southeastern U.S., from Virginia through northern Florida and to central Texas, all year round. They're about 5 inches long with a wingspan of 6-8 inches. Look for white cheeks between a black cap and bib. You'll also notice blue-gray feathered back and an ivory-pale yellow belly.
This perennial, fruiting shrub will attract flickers, Cedar Waxwings, bluebirds, woodpeckers, and other fruit-eaters. The plant features white blooms starting in late spring, then berries. The moderate grower can reach 10-12 feet in height and doesn't mind the shade. Zones 3-8
The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is in the woodpecker family and can be found year-round in most of the country. Look for pale bellies with dark spots and a grayish brown back. They measure about 12-14 inches long, and have a wingspan of 17-20 inches. Flickers love ants, and attracting the birds will serve as a natural form of pest control.
This perennial will sprout white blooms around midspring, then red berries follow. The moderate grower features coarse, green foliage and can grow as tall as 6 feet. It will draw thrashers, robins, Cedar Waxwings, mockingbirds, wrens, flickers, and other fruit-eating birds. Zones 3-8
The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) features a reddish-brown back and white belly with brown streaks. These birds are 11½ inches long and have a wingspan of about 13 inches. Fruits and nuts make up about 20-50 percent of their diet. They have a primarily eastern range, appearing from the coast to North Dakota and central Texas.
Hummingbirds, with their needle-like bills, are equipped to extract nectar from these tubular flowers. This perennial features red and pale yellow blooms in the late spring- early summer. The plant can grow 12-18 inches and features herbaceous foliage. Zones 3-8
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) has iridescent green plumage on their backs with white chests. Look for red throat feathers on males (shown). Females and young birds do not feature red throats, but otherwise resemble adult males. According to the Audubon Society, this is the only hummingbird to nest and breed in the eastern United States. They're about 3½ inches long with a wingspan of 3-4 inches.