Birds are our greatest messengers, and their broadcast is clear. It’s time to act on climate. Audubon's groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change report published in 2014 found that nearly half of North America’s birds are threatened by rising temperatures. But, there are things that we can do to help them better withstand the stressors they face. Enhancing habitat to provide reliable sources of food and shelter and to bolster bird populations is one of those things. For most of us, that means landscaping our yards in ways that make them more bird-friendly, and the best way to do that is to use native plants.
Wild birds add a spectacular variety of color and movement to any garden. In our yards and in the larger ecosystem, birds can serve a role in pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and recycling nutrients back into the soil, too. Audubon encourages homeowners, especially in urban developments, to plant native species to help migrating birds find food and shelter for safe passage.
Here are a few ideas to get you started—but there are thousands of natives out there, so try Audubon's native plants database to generate a list of plants for your region, and to help attract certain types of birds.
- Oaks (Quercus spp.) host hundreds of bugs, like ants, bees, beetles, and aphids, which make up the majority of most songbirds’ diets in spring and summer. Well over 90% of land birds feed insects to their chicks.
- To attract butterflies and other pollinators, plant shrubs like Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), which also provide seeds for ducks and other waterfowl.
- Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinqefolia) may look similar to poison ivy, but it provides key nutrients for fruit-eating birds, such as nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays.
- One of my favorite birds is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird which feast on red cardinal (Lobelia cardinalis) flower’s nectar with their elongated beaks.
Many local chapters and centers conduct seed and plant sales as part of their native restoration efforts. Click here to find an Audubon events near you.
Here are some different ways a homeowner can attract birds to their garden. Through Audubon’s community science initiatives, you can help us understand birds’ habits through your windowsill or native plant garden. To enter your sightings or for more information, click here.
- Don’t plant just for birds, but also for pollinating insects such as butterflies and moths. By doing so, you’ll be providing protein-rich insect food that baby birds need to grow and thrive. Also, instead of picking what’s prettiest at your local retailer, know what plants make the most sense by choosing species that provide other important nutrients such as fruit, nectar, nuts and seeds.
- Know your garden plot: is it exposed to sun or shade, wet or dry, rocky or sandy soil etc. By acquiring this information first, you can plan ahead. Always remember to check the plant’s growing dimensions and leave space for it to prosper.
- Remove invasive exotics that may have been introduced outside their natural region as they often reduce the value of a habitat for birds and can outcompete native species. When it comes time to steward your garden, weed as necessary and don’t rake up fallen leaves.
- Chemical pesticides can be harmful to both insects and birds, so they should be avoided. Low-impact alternatives, like neem oil, are often used to control bugs. Keep in mind to apply sparingly and according to instructions.
- Showcase your efforts through an Audubon Plants for Birds sign. While it may not help you attract birds, a sign encourages others to join the program. Once residents see the efforts to improve their community for birds and other wildlife, they’ll be more likely to join in!
- To avoid unwanted birds in the garden, plan in advance and purchase nest boxes that will aid in species conservation, such as Eastern Bluebird or Black-capped Chickadee boxes. After installment, ensure to monitor to keep out European Starlings, an invasive to North America, who tend to push out native nesters and are already ubiquitous across the United States. For best management practices, please follow NYSDEC “Nuisance Wildlife Species” guidelines.
Through planting native patches of grasses, trees, and shrubs —no matter how small—you can provide habitat for birds that are enduring stressors in a warming world. Please contact Kelly Knutson, New York Field Organizer, at Kknutson@audubon.org if you’re interested in getting involved in native plants for birds and/or climate advocacy with Audubon.