Birds are nature’s messengers, and they're telling us we need to act. They are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, with fewer and fewer habitable places to live throughout the year.
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. 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. 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. 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.
3. 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. 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. 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 provide food and homes for insects.
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.