- How does the native plants database search work?
- What are other sources for finding native plants?
- Yard choices must be approved by my housing association, and bird-friendly landscaping is 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?
- What's the difference between a true native plant and a cultivar of a native plant?
- Does a native plant garden help conserve water?
- How does climate change threaten birds, and how does planting natives help?
- Is a native plant garden better for human health?
- Can the database help me attract and support hummingbirds?
- What else can I do to help the birds in my garden?
- I’ve noticed more caterpillars now that I have a native plant garden. Why is that?
- Will planting for birds also attract and support insect pollinators like bees and butterflies?
- How can I find my local Audubon?
- I’m trying to identify the birds I’m getting in my native plant garden. Do you have anything that can help?
- Should I worry about birds colliding with my windows if I attract them to my yard?
- I love my new native plant garden and want to share a photo! How can I do that?
- Where can I donate to support this program?
- Why should I get a Plants for Birds sign or encourage others to get a Plants for Birds sign?
- Why is the common name for a plant I know different in the database?
- How does the database determine which types of birds each plant will attract?
- What can I do about bugs that are eating my plants?
- What do I need to know about neonicotinoids when I'm purchasing plants?
- What are “invasive” plants—and what should I do about them?
- What do I need to know about the sourcing of native plants at my local retailer?
- What do I need to know about shopping for native plants online?
- I'm planning to treat my ash trees with systemic insecticides to combat Emerald Ash Borers, should I be worried about it affecting other insects and the birds that visit my yard?
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. 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.)
If you’d like to narrow down your search results based on specific types of plants, resources, or birds, you can use the pull-down filter menus in the Best and Full Results tabs. You can also filter your list by keyword; type in the name of the plant or any word found in the plant’s description, and your list will show you every profile in which that keyword appears. Looking for shade-tolerant species or ones that thrive in dry soil? Type “shade” or “dry” respectively into the keyword filter to see all the plant profiles that contain those terms.
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, other local and regional native plant experts, 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 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 10 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. Though almost all plants require some watering after planting until they become established, native plants have adapted to thrive in their regional landscapes, without the continuous irrigation and/or fertilization that many non-native species require. With climate change models predicting increased episodes of extreme drought, as California is experiencing for example, 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). Read about how a neighborhood in Colorado saved water with native plants here.
6. How does climate change threaten birds, and how does planting natives help?
Our changing climate poses profound challenges to conservation. Audubon’s latest Climate Report, Survival by Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink, found that two-thirds of North American bird species could lose more than half of their current ranges if global temperatures continue to rise. 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. Taking effective action now can save 76% of bird species from being vulnerable to extinction. Native plant patches—no matter how small—can help bird populations be more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
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. Can the database help me attract and support hummingbirds?
Yes! The database drop-down filter menus allow you to refine your results based on the types of plants, resources they provide, or types of birds the plants will support. If you’re interested in hummingbirds, you can select them from the "types of birds attracted" menu and only plants that support hummingbirds will be shown. Similarly, if you select nectar in the "plant resources" menu, the plants that provide nectar for hummingbirds (and other bird and insect species) will be shown. Those plants will be great options to plant to support hummingbirds in your patch. Read more about creating a hummingbird-friendly yard here.
If you like hummingbirds and are interested in helping Audubon understand how plants and yards are supporting hummingbirds in the face of our changing climate, we encourage you to participate in Hummingbirds at Home, Audubon’s community science program that relies on people around the country to collect data about the hummingbirds they encounter and the nectar sources those birds are using. It’s easy and fun and your participation will help us understand more about these amazing birds as we strive to protect them. Visit the Hummingbirds at Home website to learn more.
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. 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. Of course, more caterpilllars also means more butterflies! (See the next item for more on that.).
11. Will planting for birds also attract and support insect pollinators like bees and butterflies?
Yes, many of the best native plants for birds are also important plants for insect pollinators—both as sources of nectar and as “host” plants. Over 90% of native insects can only feed on the native plants with which they’ve evolved over millions of years. Native butterflies like the monarch lay their eggs only on particular host plants—in the case of the monarch, milkweed species—and monarch caterpillars need milkweed leaves to eat and eventually mature into the next generation of butterflies. Planting for pollinators will not only support pollinating insects such as butterflies and moths; it will also provide the protein-rich insect food that baby birds need to grow and thrive. You can use the native plants database to search for plants that are important both for butterflies and for caterpillars. Another way to get involved and show your support for planting for pollinators is to register for the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a project of the National Pollinator Garden Network.
12. How can I find my local Audubon?
When you use our native plants database, your search results will point you to the nearest Audubon that provides native plant services. If you don't find an Audubon near you through the database, visit our Audubon Near You page to explore the vast Audubon network of 41 centers, 450+ local chapters, and 22 state offices.
13. 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.
14. Should I worry about birds colliding with my windows if I attract them to my yard?
Everyone should worry about birds colliding with windows, since bird-window collisions are a leading cause of bird death in North America. If you are attracting birds by improving your own habitat then you will definitely need to ensure your space is as safe as possible for birds, including ensuring that they don't collide with your windows. Fortunately, solutions are readily available - you can even create your own solutions with items you might have around your house. Learn more here.
15. 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.
16. 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.)
17. 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.
18. 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!
19. 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.
20. What can I do about bugs that are eating my plants?
A bird-friendly garden is one that provides the resources that birds need to thrive—and that includes bugs! Insects are in important element of many birds’ diets, and are particularly critical for baby birds: 96% of land birds feed insects to their chicks. As you get to know the insect life in your garden, you may be amazed at the varied assortment of fascinating creatures you find there. A diversity of native plants will also attract wildlife that will keep your plant-eating bugs in check: Not only birds but also frogs, toads, bats, and insect predators such as dragonflies, praying mantises and lady bugs will help keep your garden in a healthy balance. Pesticide use should be avoided as much as possible, to allow all the life in your garden to flourish. If bugs are persistently devouring a favorite plant, however, some low-impact alternatives are available. Choose organic products that break down quickly in the environment such as insecticidal soap, neem oil*, or pyrethrum, and apply sparingly and according to instructions. If your garden is suffering from a larger-scale pest problem such as a non-native gypsy moth caterpillar infestation, you may want to contact your local or state environmental agency for advice.
* A note on the use of neem oil, which is an insect growth inhibitor and non-toxic to birds. Because neem oil prevents insects from developing further, it can prevent bee larvae from developing if adult bees feed them neem oil-coated pollen they've brought back to the hive. For that reason, you should avoid using neem oil on flowers or remove open flowers from plants you're treating with neem oil.
21. 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 1990s and have become popular in pest control due to their water solubility, which allows them to be applied to soil and be taken up by plants. They are an example of a "systemic pesticide": one that is absorbed by the plant and retained in its tissues for some time, as opposed to staying just on the plant's surface. Some plants available in the nursery trade have been treated with neonicotinoids to make them less susceptible to insect damage. A growing number of studies have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides harm birds, in addition to a wide range of insect pollinators—both by leaching into the soil and causing neurological effects, and by killing off insects that some species rely on for food.
In the last few years, growing attention has been brought to bear upon neonicotinoid-treated plants—particularly milkweed—sold expressly to help and attract pollinators. Many—but not all!—nurseries that supply native plants expressly 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. It's important that both small retailers and larger chains hear from consumers that carrying neonicotinoid-treated plants is not acceptable.
If you'd like to learn more, the Xerces Society has an excellent set of online resources related to the effects of neonicotinoids on bees and other insect pollinators.
22. What are “invasive” plants—and what should I do about them?
Invasive plants may include aggressive alien, or non-native, plants that have been introduced to North America—as well as plants native to North America that have been spread outside their natural range either accidentally or purposefully by people. Such plants can outcompete native species and reduce the value of a habitat for birds. Invasive alien plants, though they may provide some sustenance to birds via fruit, seeds, or nectar, as a rule do not provide the same quality of nutrition—nor do they generally host the same diversity of native insect species that songbirds need to feed their young during nesting season. Consult your local Audubon or native plant society to learn about the invasive plants of most concern in your area, and the best methods to remove them effectively. Many local Audubons conduct invasive plant removal events as part of local native plant restoration efforts.
23. What do I need to know about the sourcing of native plants at my local retailer?
Because plant species often have wide ranges, it can be important to know just where the native plants that you can find at your local retailer are grown. Plants that originate from local genetic stocks and are grown locally are better adapted to your local conditions, will probably grow and serve local insects better, and reflect the truly local nature of the Plants for Birds program. When checking out local retailers, ask them where they source their plants. Do they grow the plants themselves, on site or nearby? If they work with a wholesaler or grower, is that supplier local and using locally sourced plants? The answers to these questions can help you narrow your search for the best native plants for your specific needs.
24. What do I need to know about shopping for native plants online?
When purchasing plants on any online site, you will want to be sure the seller provides basic information on the plant: planting instructions, water and light requirements, size at full maturity, etc. Note that online descriptions may differ from reality, but they should provide a good idea of what to expect of your plants. Make sure that the plants or seeds you order have not been treated with pesticides. Pesticides could be harmful to the birds and wildlife that land on and feed off them. Before checking out with your desired plants, it is important to review shipping information. Does the seller ship soil along with the plants? How will the plants be packaged? Plants that are bare root—as in not potted or in much soil—will need to be planted as soon as possible. Where is the seller located, and how long will it take for the plants to arrive? You may need to adjust shipping speeds to ensure the plants will survive the trip. Another detail to keep in mind is if your plant will arrive already emerged from dormancy or not. Outdoor plants may arrive dormant or may take longer to ship so that they arrive by their growing season, but given some time, your plant should flourish as expected.
25. I’m planning to treat my ash trees with systemic insecticides to combat Emerald Ash Borers, should I be worried about it affecting other insects and the birds that visit my yard?
Systemic insecticides used to control invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) will inevitably impact other insects as well, but depending on the product’s ingredients, the pesticides may affect some groups of insects more than others. The compound imidacloprid, for example, has an effect on insects like sawflies, leaf-eating beetles, and aphids, but is not detrimental to caterpillars and mites. Residual chemicals from systemic insecticides are not usually found in large amounts in groundwater, however you should avoid applying them in soils near ponds or lakes, in sandy soils, or on sloped surfaces as heavy amounts in the water could affect aquatic insects and other wildlife. Additionally, flowering plants should not be planted in the immediate vicinity of treated trees in order to protect pollinators like bees from coming across any absorbed insecticides. Woodpeckers in particular enjoy feeding on EAB, but the chemical concentration of the insecticides is unlikely to be toxic to birds. The woodpeckers’ main prey is live, mature EAB larvae, most likely to be found on the outer bark of the tree, and therefore unexposed to the pesticide. Any larva that has been killed by the insecticide will quickly shrivel and decompose, unlikely to be food for the birds. It is difficult to avoid affecting the surrounding environment with any pesticide, but applying systemic insecticides has been shown to be generally less harmful than using broad-spectrum ones.