It might still be snowy in much of the US, but it’s March and, with longer days and hopeful birds singing, it’s a good time to start thinking about spring! This month’s action for the Year of the Bird perfectly channels those spring-y vibes: learning about native plants that you can grow in your yard or garden.
This article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology talks about the importance of native plants for providing bird habitat, and provides tips for creating bird habitat in your back yard. The suggestions come down to two main points:
Grow native plants!
Ok, not mowing your lawn isn’t an option everywhere…but it’s worth considering! Think about it: a carpet of (probably) non-native grass that’s mechanically chopped every few weeks is habitat for just about nothing. Here in New England, if you stop mowing a section of lawn, you’ll soon find yourself with forbs–goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, asters, milkweed, etc. Yes, these are common roadside plants that you might not think of in a garden, but they provide shelter/food for insects (even butterflies!) which, in turn, become a buffet for birds. Ground nesting birds, such as bobolinks, will even nest in fields that are left wild. My parents’ house is on ~3/4 acre on a dirt road; they stopped mowing a section of lawn and I think the wilder corner is beautiful!
Even if you want a more cultivated look, there are a lot of native plants that you can buy and introduce to your yard to create a space that is aesthetically pleasing and provides resources for birds. Think in 3-D and consider plants of multiple heights–trees, shrubs, and flowers. Also consider resources that you might be able to share with birds, such as choke-cherries!
To give ideas of what plants you might want to consider, Audubon has created a nifty native plant database. You just type in your zip-code and the database returns a page with plants native to your area. You can filter your results by plant type (annuals, trees, shrubs, etc), resource type (nectar, fruit, seeds, etc), and bird type. It’s easy to use, with pictures and graphics. You can even save your plant list and have it emailed to yourself.
On another tab, the website also lists local (to you!) places where you can buy native plants and this Audubon article talks about things to consider when you are deciding exactly what to plant and how to design your space.
If you want a general overview, this Audubon article gives a general overview of native plants that are good for attracting particular bird species.
No yard? No problem! This Audubon article talks about how you can create a bird-friendly container garden on your deck or patio!
Once you’ve cultivated a native plant haven for birds, you can advertise that fact to anyone who passes by: For a $25 donation to Audubon, you can receive a metal sign indicating that the garden/yard was planted with birds in mind!