Cardinal flower, Joe-Pye weed
Courtesy Douglas Tallamy

 Gardens are outdoor sanctuaries for birds, insects and other wildlife. Every spring, migrating birds visit our yards looking for nourishment from our gardens and places to raise their chicks. By adding native plants to one’s yard, balcony, container garden, rooftop or public space, anyone, anywhere can not only attract more birds but give them the best chance of survival in the face of climate change and urban development.

Spring azures are one type of Lepidoptera for which blueberry is a host.

Most of us are aware that many birds are fond of the fruits and berries found on non-native plants as well as natives.

One of the ways non-native plants spread and become invasive is through the guts of birds. Birds act as seed dispersers moving from one location to another taking invasive plants with them from your backyard to another backyard and often, into wild spaces.

Non-native plants ultimately cannot sustain bird populations because they do not support native insects. Native plants act as host plants and nectar sources for an insect’s entire life cycle, from larvae to adult.

During spring migration Black-and-white Warblers can be seen crawling up and down tree branches foraging for insects in bark crevices.
Photo:Robert Cook/Audubon Photography Awards

Native insects have evolved such that in their larval form they feed on a small number of plants and do not see non-native plants as food.

For example, native plant expert Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home) writes that while the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), a species from China, supports no insect herbivores in North America, our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) supports 117 species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies)! Oaks are hosts to an astonishing 532 species of caterpillars.

Most landscaping plants available in nurseries are exotic species from other countries. Many are prized for qualities that make them poor food sources for wildlife. They generally also require more chemicals and water to thrive, increasing maintenance time, costs and environmental hazards. Some can even become invasive.

“Birds and native plants are made for each other thanks to millions of years of evolution,” says Dr. John Rowden, Audubon’s director of community conservation. “As plants grow and bloom earlier because of warming temperatures, there is a growing mismatch between bloom times and the arrival of birds that depend on them. Habitat provided by native plants can help climate threatened birds adapt and survive.”

Healthy native insect populations are vital for birds during spring migration. During nesting season 96% of songbirds feed their young on insect protein.

It starts with native plants. NATIVE plants + NATIVE insects = healthier bird populations.

Explore Audubon’s Native Plant Database to find the best plants for your yard.

Each spring Menunkatuck’s Plant Sale for the Birds  offers bird-friendly shrubs and perennials for sale.