Native Plants

Bird-Friendly Plants FAQ

Got questions? We have answers.

  1. How does the native plants database search work?
  2. What are other sources for finding native plants?
  3. Yard choices must be approved by my housing association, and bird-friendly landscaping is in uncommon in my community. How can I talk to my neighbors, housing association, and others to reassure them that my native plant garden will be beneficial to them?
  4. What's the difference between a true native plant and a cultivar of a native plant?
  5. Does a native plant garden help conserve water?
  6. How does climate change threaten birds, and how does planting natives help?
  7. Is a native plant garden better for human health?
  8. I’ve noticed more caterpillars now that I have a native plant garden. Why is that?
  9. What else can I do to help the birds in my garden?
  10. How can I find my local Audubon?
  11. I’m trying to identify the birds I’m getting in my native plant garden. Do you have anything that can help?
  12. Should I worry about birds colliding with my windows if I attract them to my yard?
  13. I love my new native plant garden and want to share a photo! How can I do that? 
  14. Where can I donate to support this program?
  15. Why should I get a Plants for Birds sign or encourage others to get a Plants for Birds sign?
  16. Why is the common name for a plant I know different in the database? 
  17. How does the database determine which types of birds each plant will attract?
  18. What do I need to know about neonicotinoids when I'm purchasing plants?

1. How does the native plants database search work?

The plant data in the Audubon Native Plant Database come from the Biota of North America Program (BONAP), one of the most comprehensive sources of native plant information in the United States. The BONAP data show us where plants are native and Audubon's bird experts then selected plants that are beneficial to birds and generally available for purchase in the nursery trade; those plants are listed on the 'Best Results' tab in the search results.  If you're interested in specific types of plants or want to attract particular types of birds, you can use the pull-down filter menus to narrow your search results. The 'Full Results' tab lists all the native plants for each location, including plants you probably won't see in the nursery trade. 

Each type of plant listed in Best Results produces resources (nuts, seeds, nectar, etc.) or may host insects that can support birds. The types of birds supported by those resources are shown next to the plant, with a link to Audubon's Guide to North American Birds that shows all the members of that group. Our bird data only covers species found in North America, so we can't currently show birds that would be attracted to native plants in Hawaii. (To learn how to help native birds in Hawaii, click here.)

The information underlying the Native Plant Database defines native status by county—so if your ZIP code is located in a large county with diverse geographies and habitats, you should inquire with your local Audubon or a native plants nursery with expertise in your area to verify which plants will work best for you.

2. What are other sources for finding native plants?

As more communities and individuals seek native plants to help wildlife, save water, and add beauty, more and more nurseries carry native plants and seeds. Enter your zip code in our native plant database and click the Local Resources tab to find resources in your area, including both local Audubon chapters and local native plant retailers. If your local nursery does not have the native plants you’re looking for, encourage them to start stocking native plants. If there are no local nurseries near you, here are other options:

  • Native plant societies can often provide both expertise and native plant stocks.
  • Farmers markets increasingly include native plants too.
  • You can also transplant from neighbors who have a head start and are willing to share seedlings and sprouts (but never transplant from the wild).
  • Seed packets that are already prepared and come with directions are your best bet for native wildflowers. Make sure that the packets actually are natives for your region. Seeding can also cover larger areas, especially for trees.

3. Yard choices must be approved by my housing association, and bird-friendly landscaping is in uncommon in my community. How can I talk to my neighbors, housing association, and others to reassure them that my native plant garden will be beneficial to them?

Growing native plants has many benefits both for birds and for people. It is becoming increasingly common as people discover the advantages of transitioning to native plants, so you won’t be alone!

If people are nervous about what your yard might look like, assure them that when you transition to native plants it can lead to a more beautiful yard that will also be filled with colorful birds. Many native plants produce flowers in the spring and bright foliage in the fall, creating an attractive yard throughout the growing season. And "native plant garden" doesn’t mean "wild thicket"—native plant gardens can be as visually pleasing as gardens that use non-native plants, they are just friendlier to birds and easier to maintain! Also, since native plant gardens use less water and are better for human health (see below), you can tell your neighbors that they will benefit from your use of native plants. 

One way to let your neighbors know about the importance of your bird-friendly garden is to place Audubon's Plants for Birds sign in your yard. By donating to receive your sign, you'll also be contributing to our efforts to get 1 million native plants in the ground. Get your sign here.

Be inspired by these beautiful examples of native plant gardens.

4. What's the difference between a true native plant and a cultivar of a native plant?

You will probably run into cultivars when you start investigating growing native plants. Cultivars are plants that are bred by humans to favor one or more specific traits—such as leaf color, the size or growth habitat, disease resistance, bloom color/shape/size/timing, etc.—and are then propagated so that those traits are maintained. Thus the plant is altered by genetically favoring certain characteristics over time. The horticultural industry has created literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of cultivars of native species.

Some cultivars of natives aren't much different from the true native but some are significantly altered. Through the breeding process the plant can become less recognizable to insects, birds, and other wildlife, specifically if the bloom is altered. Ecologists agree that some cultivars of natives may hold ecological value—at least more than exotics from the other side of the planet—but it is generally believed that the true native is best.

5. Does a native plant garden help conserve water?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30 to 60 percent of fresh water in American cities is used for watering lawns. Native plants have adapted to thrive in their regional landscape, without added water or nutrients. With climate change models predicting increased episodes of extreme drought such as California is experiencing, it’s a good time to shift to water-wise yards and native plants. If an average American family spent 1 less day watering their garden and lawn, it would save about 320 gallons of water (source: Environmental Protection Agency).

6. How does climate change threaten birds, and how does planting natives help?

Our warming world poses profound challenges to conservation. Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report, published in September 2014, found that 314 North American bird species could lose more than half of their current ranges by 2080 due to rising temperatures. Learn more at climate.audubon.org. The report showed that in order to protect birds, we need to reduce the emissions that cause the warming and protect the places on the ground that birds need now and in the future. Planting native grasses, trees, and shrubs does both. First, replacing lawns with native plants lowers the carbon produced and water required to maintain them. And native gardens also help birds be as strong as possible in the face of the climate threat—by providing food, shelter and protection. Native plant patches—no matter how small—can help bird populations be more resilient to the impacts of a warming world.

7. Is a native plant garden better for human health?

When you reduce the size of your lawn and landscape with native plants, you can spend less time cutting the grass and more time watching the birds that flock to your yard. How does that boost human health? During the growing season, some 56 million Americans mow 40 million acres of grass each week. Mowers and weed-whackers burn gasoline to the tune of 800 million gallons per year, contributing to the greenhouse gases produced in our country. The less lawn you mow, the less air and water pollution you create.

Less lawn also means less noise pollution, and that’s great for your ears. According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, a typical gas-powered push mower emits 85 to 90 decibels for the operator. That doesn’t just scare away the birds—it can cause hearing loss over time. When the mower’s tucked away, you can hear bird song in the silence that reigns.

Less lawn mowing, fertilizing, and pesticide application also means cleaner air and water for all!

8. I’ve noticed more caterpillars now that I have a native plant garden. Why is that?

Caterpillars make up as much as 87 percent of a chick's diet. Entomologist Doug Tallamy—author of Bringing Nature Home and leading researcher in the impacts of non-native plants on native ecosystems—found in a study that native woody plants hosted 35 times more caterpillar biomass than non-native woody plants.

As Tallamy is quick to point out, landscaping with plants that are tasty to native caterpillars doesn’t mean you’ll have an unsightly yard, denuded of leaves. Most birds eat caterpillars when the larvae are small. And as you shift your garden’s offerings to make them more bird-friendly, you’ll likely find that those scattered holes in the leaves of your newly planted red oak will be a beautiful sight indeed.

9. What else can I do to help the birds in my garden?

The short answer: A lot! Along with your native plants, you can welcome birds to your space with other do-it-yourself features, like birdbaths and feeders.

10. How can I find my local Audubon?

Visit our Audubon Near You page to explore the vast Audubon network of 41 centers, 450+ local chapters, and 22 state offices. When you use our Native Plant Database, your search results will point you to the nearest Audubon that provides native plant services. 

11. I’m trying to identify the birds I’m getting in my native plant garden. Do you have anything that can help?

One of the many benefits of native plants is biodiversity and the new feathered friends that come with it. You may be seeing new birds in your backyard. The Audubon Bird Guide app is a great way to identify, learn about, and track the birds you find. With over 820 species at your fingertips, it is the perfect companion to your bird-friendly space. Download it free now.

Also take a look at Audubon’s online Guide to North American Birds. Available in Spanish here.

12. Should I worry about birds colliding with my windows if I attract them to my yard?

You can protect your feathered visitors by taking some simple steps to create a safer environment for birds. Reduce the risk of collisions by placing feeders less than three feet from a window or more than 30 feet away. Mobiles, opaque decorations, and fruit tree netting outside windows also helps to deflect birds from the glass. Read more tips here.

13. I am really enjoying my new native plant garden and want to share a photo! How can I do that?

We’d love to see your photos! Please share them on our Facebook page, facebook.com/NationalAudubonSociety.  

14. Where can I donate to support this program?

Your gift is a vital investment in a healthy future for birds and their habitats. For a donation of $25 or more, you will receive Audubon's Plants for Birds sign, to post in your yard and help spread the word about the importance of native plants. Donate and get your sign here. (If you prefer not to receive a sign, you can click here to make a donation to support this program and all of Audubon's efforts.)

15. Why should I get a Plants for Birds sign or encourage others to get a Plants for Birds sign? 

You’ve already shown commitment to supporting native birds by putting more native plants into your garden or yard. Why should you get a sign as well?

  • A sign helps spread the word about the benefits of native plants for native bird species. You can see the benefits of the native plants you’ve planted, but others may not know that the new plants in your yard are native, or what the positive impacts on birds are. By putting a Plants for Birds sign in your yard, you’ll be reaching more people with the message about native plants.
  • A sign starts conversations. The Plants for Birds sign contains a simple message but invites the viewer to learn more, and you are the perfect person to have that conversation with: Why did you decide to change your yard and what benefits are you seeing?
  • A sign encourages others to join the program. People in your neighborhood may not know about the benefits of native plants, but once they learn about it and see the benefits of these efforts to improve the community for birds, they’ll be more likely to join in.

16. Why is the common name for a plant I know different in the database? 

Common names for a single plant species can vary from state to state, from county to county, or even from town to town. The common names we show for plant species are taken from the Biota of North America Program's database and, therefore, reflect the name for that plant in only one location (unless there is no variation across the U.S.). Where possible, we indicate other common names in the brief description that appears under the scientific and common names. Sorry if the common name you see in the title doesn't represent that plant in your locality! 

17. How does the database determine which types of birds each plant will attract?

We determine what types of birds each plant may attract based on the different types of food sources each broad grouping of birds needs to thrive. So whether a plant produces edible seeds, fruits, nectar, or attracts insects determines which types of birds might benefit.

These groupings of birds are broad, and we don't have data to determine what kinds of birds will be attracted by each plant on a species-by-species level right now. The bird links in the database take you to Audubon's Guide to North American Birds, which shows more information about all the species in that group. Because of differences in geography and individual species ranges it is possible that some of the bird types associated with each plant aren't typically found in your area, or that you may only see certain species of any given group of birds. Also, we currently don't have the capability to show the types of birds attracted to the native plants in Hawaii. 

18. What do I need to know about neonicotinoids when I'm purchasing plants?

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides chemically related to nicotine that target certain kinds of receptors in the nervous system. They  were first approved for use in the 1990's and are popular in pest control due to their water solubility, which allows them to be applied to soil and be taken up by plants. Some plants available in the nursery trade have been treated with neonicotinoids to make them less susceptible to insect damage. Several studies have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides harm birds, both by leaching into the soil and causing neurological effects and by killing off insects that some species rely on for food. 

Many—but not all!—nurseries that supply native plants do not carry plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. We have not been able to verify that every nursery listed in our database does not carry plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids or other insecticides. For your own information and peace of mind, you should ask your supplier—if you locate it through our database or some other way—whether or not the plants they carry have been treated with insecticides.