Clockwise from top left: Teressa Carter-Wotring earned our habitat recognition signage for her bird-friendly container garden at Baltimore's Patterson Park Audubon Center; a Ruby-throated Hummingbird by a trumpet honeysuckle; the winning site in the Audubon Rockies 2015 Residential Garden Habitat Hero contest; a Baltimore Oriole among red buckeye and eastern red columbine at Ohio's Magee Marsh; a volunteer plants milkweed for Audubon Rockies; a tiger swallowtail butterfly on a cup plant. Photos: Courtesy of Patterson Park Audubon; Will Stuart; Donna Duffy; Camilla Cerea/Audubon; Daly Edmunds; Kristin Lamberson/Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

Native Plants

How to Make Your Yard Bird-Friendly

Grow a beautiful garden that provides a safe haven for birds in the face of climate change.

Birds are nature’s messengers, and they're broadcasting loud and clear: They are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change, and this danger will only grow over time.

One of the best ways to help birds thrive is to make sure your yard is bird-friendly. By following the steps below, you can create a patch of habitat that attracts colorful birds, sweet melodies, and vibrant colors. If you don’t have a yard, you can still help birds by creating a native plant container garden on your patio or balcony.

The secret to success lies in choosing locally native plants, which brim with nutritious insects, berries, nectar, and seeds to give birds vital food and refuge.

1. Choosing Native Plants

Choose native plants that are adapted to your particular growing conditions, such as the amount of sunlight or shade, the type of soil, and the amount of precipitation the site receives. Search our Native Plant Database for the best plants for your area. You can also ask your local garden shop about plants that are native to your area or seek out native plant societies near you.

Focus on native plants that support the highest variety and quantity of bird food.

  • Native trees such as oaks, willows, birches, and maples, and native herbaceous plants such as goldenrod and asters host numerous caterpillar species that are a vital source of protein for birds, especially during the breeding season.
  • Red tubular flowers such as columbine, jewelweed, and bee balm serve up nectar for hummingbirds.
  • Native sunflowers, asters, and coneflowers produce seeds for songbirds.
  • Berries ripen at different times, so include seasonal variety: dogwood and spicebush for songbirds flying south; cedar and holly trees to sustain birds through cold winter days and nights.
  • Check out a few suggestions for native plants—but remember to find out what’s local in your area.

2. Planning

Plan for a variety of shapes, sizes, and kinds of plants to give vertical structure to your garden and add cover for our feathered friends.

  • Cluster the same plant species together.
  • Design for color palettes and seasonal blooms.
  • Add habitat features like hollowed boulders that catch rainwater for birds to drink and bathe in.

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This garden is filled with native plants, including scarlet flax, penstemons, lupines, and desert mallow. A large palo verde tree can be seen at upper right; the cactus in the middle is likely native to Mexico. The "Red Wall" was designed and installed by Carrie Nimmer of Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Charles Mann
Patterson Park Audubon Center has recognized Teressa Carter's garden in Baltimore as Bird-Friendly Home Habitat. Photo: Erin Reed/Patterson Park Audubon
A Gray Catbird perches on a bright sprig of American beautyberry. Photo: Will Stuart
Sally Heinlein's garden in Tucson, Arizona, boasts agaves, red yucca, and prickly pear cactus. Here it is illuminated at dusk. Photo: Mark Turner
All native plants in this display in California: Monterey cypress "aurea," foothill penstemon, cliffmaids, and Catalina live-for-ever. Photo: Pete Veilleux
Purple coneflower is a perennial that is native to eastern North America. Photo: Kristina Deckert/Audubon
A front-yard garden in Boise, Idaho, planted by Patricia Zimmerman, hosts wyeth, sulphur buckwheat, penstemon, yuccas, green and gray rabbitbrush, and California poppies. Photo: Mark Turner
Purple coneflower, red beebalm, Pycnanthemum (a type of mint), and Fothergilla are arranged in an urban display in Baltimore. Photo: Susie Creamer/Patterson Park Audubon
A native garden at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Mississippi. Photo: Mitch Robinson/Strawberry Plains Audubon Center
Bird feeders are surrounded by a variety of native plants, including sword ferns, wild ginger, red huckleberries, and Douglas-fir and western red cedar trees on Washington's Mercer Island. Photo: Mark Turner
A native Prunus plays host to a tiger swallowtail. Photo: Will Stuart
From left to right: winterglow manzanita, rosey buckwheat, Mount Saint Helena manzanita, leafy reedgrass, Shasta sulfur buckwheat, Warren Roberts pajaro manzanita, and Conejo buckwheat, all planted in California. In the back is a non-native olive, which has since been removed. Photo: Pete Veilleux
A Northern Mockingbird rests on a common winterberry holly. Photo: Will Stuart
Sword ferns, Vancouveria, and redwood sorrel flank a flagstone path at a home in Bow, Washington. Photo: Mark Turner
This "Arid Zone Trees" landscape was designed by Steve Martino in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It holds cacti such as Octopus agave, prickly pear, and a species of Opuntia, along with desert marigold and a palo verde tree. Photo: Charles Mann
Engelmann's prickly pear, saguaro, ocotillo, and desert willow fill a desert garden in Tucson, Arizona. Photo: Mark Turner

3. Preparing your garden

Prepare your garden well to save headaches later. If your site currently has turf grass or invasive plants, you will need to remove these, and you may want to enrich your soil by adding organic compost. An easy method is to lay down newspaper at least six sheets deep, with plenty of overlap; wet it down; cover it with 4 to 6 inches of mulch; and let it sit until you are ready to plant. Use deep edging—putting some sort of barrier (steel or plastic edging) that goes into the ground to separate the native plant area from the lawn area—to keep out lawn grass.

4. Planting

Plant in spring or fall and on cooler days. Follow planting instructions carefully and get tips on mulching around plants from the plant nursery or gardening center. Water only as needed when young plants are adapting to their new habitat.

5. Caring for Your Garden

Steward your native plant garden with tender loving care.

  • Pull up noxious and invasive weeds.
  • Enhance your garden area with brush piles that hide birds and shelter other wildlife too.
  • Leave dead trees and branches that nourish life.

Check out more tips from the native plant master Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home.

Remember, what's good for birds is also good for people. Here are some possible impacts of your native plant garden:

532: Varieties of butterflies and moths supported by native oak trees, as compared to only 5 butterfly and moth species supported by non-native ginkgo trees.

96: Percentage of land birds that rely on insects to feed chicks.

1,200: Number of crops that depend on pollinators to grow.

40 million: Acres of lawn in the U.S. currently.

80 million: Pounds of pesticides applied to lawns in the U.S. annually. Native plants, on the other hand, support a balance of predator and prey and thrive without pesticides.

800 million: Gallons of gas used annually by lawn mowers. This produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases driving climate change.

Learn more about why native plants are better for birds and for people.

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