Native Plants for Birds

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Photo by Rick Bunting

National Audubon recently launched Plants for Birds, an initiative to encourage people to plant bird-friendly native plants. Alarmingly, 41% of all Neotropical songbird populations are declining; according to National Audubon, habitat loss is the number one factor contributing to this decline. “Plants for Birds” is an effort to help meet birds’ needs within the places that people live. Birds must be able to find food, shelter, places to raise their young and safe passage within our human dominated landscape. The average American yard does not provide many resources for birds. There is little to eat and few places to hide from predators. In a typical yard, about 80% of the plant species are non-native, and more than 50% of a yard is lawn with almost no ecological value. Trees, flowers and shrubs that might be beneficial to wildlife make up less than 20% of the yard.

Why are native plants so important?

Native plants provide our native birds with fruit, seeds, nectar, shelter, and especially insect food. Native plants evolved as hosts for our specialized native insects; 90% of insects that eat plants can only eat the native plants with which they evolved. For example, our native oaks support 537 species of caterpillars, while the gingko, a popularly planted exotic, supports only four. Exotic plants are advertised as pest-free because few local insects eat them, but they may as well say bird-free. Birds need insects: 96% of our land birds feed insects to their young. A chickadee pair can bring up to 570 caterpillars to their nest each day. Without native plants, we will not have the insects; without the insects, we will not have birds. Exotic plants just cannot provide the needed support.

Native landscaping can be a key tool to increase bird diversity and abundance and everyone can contribute! From planting a native plant in a container on an apartment deck, to replacing one standard ornamental with a native plant, to dedicating a section of or an entire yard to bird-friendly native plants, you will be contributing to a collective action that can add up to significant change.

How to Get Started.

If you enter your zip code into National Audubon’s Plants for Birds website database you will get an overwhelming list of hundreds of native plants suitable for your area. To help narrow the focus, Onondaga Audubon is partnering with Habitat Gardening in Central NY the local chapter of Wild Ones, in a program we are calling Native Plants for Birds. Each year, starting this year (2017), we will highlight and advertise 10 to 12 bird-friendly native plants. We are working with local growers who will focus on propagating these selected plants, making sure they are readily available to those who would like to plant them. A dozen more plants will be added each year, the list will become substantial, and many more people will hopefully become involved in learning about and planting native plant species.

The Native Plants for Birds list for 2017 includes:

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa Syn Cimicifuga racemosa)

Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus)

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Where to find these plants?

These 10 bird-friendly plants plus eight nectar plants for Monarch Butterflies are currently available for purchase through April 20, 2017 in our SPRING PLANT SALE. Local growers providing these and many more native plants can be found in the Native Plant Shopping Guide at hgcny.org. We encourage the purchase of the species, not any cultivars.

Where to go from here?