Jun 10, 2020 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2015

Birdscaping 101: Bird-magnet Plants for Your Yard

An American goldfinch perches upon a bloom of purple coneflower. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Some yards seem to be magnets for birds. Providing a variety of delectable bird food in various feeder types at numerous locations, plus a fresh water source are key features in such locations, but the setting of those features is every bit as important. Providing a landscape that is safe and alluring to birds is an essential element in attracting diverse species. Not all songbirds are seed-, fruit-, or suet-eaters, so think outside the bird-feeding box and into the landscaping to improve your yard’s attractiveness to birds.

It would be helpful if we provided a list of 10 plants you should rush out and buy at your local nursery that would turn your yard into a bird magnet. The problem is that few plants grow well in yards in Alaska, Florida, Maine, California, and all places in between; a shrub great for birds that grows well on forested mountaintops might not be suitable for lowlands, deserts, or next to the ocean. Be wary of any guide to landscaping for birds that doesn’t take into consideration both the bio-region and the site-specific conditions possible there. Some plants that many bird species flock to won’t grow in wet areas, or in clay or acid soil, or in full sunshine, or in full shade. Consider not only what plants are native or well-adapted to your hardiness zone, but also the characteristics of your property.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird sips at bee balm. Photo by J. Schneid / Wikimedia.

Seek expert local advice for your specific growing area. This will help you choose native plants and noninvasive exotics that are attractive to and good for birds and that will thrive in the growing conditions of your yard.

What is attractive to people is not necessarily most attractive to birds. Many birds like brush piles, tangled vines, standing dead trees, and leaf litter. The most helpful advice we can offer is to evaluate your property through the eyes of a bird—rather, of several types of birds. Songbirds have wide-ranging preferences. Some really like vines; some feed only on the ground. The more varied your landscape, the wider variety of birds you will attract.

A Bewick's wren shelters beneath a backyard rose bush. Photo by D. Bent.

It is well known that birds require food, water, and shelter. Making sure your yard offers all three in a variety of ways will add to its avian magnetism. Visualize your yard without bird feeders. Does your landscaping invite birds? Can they fly or hop about safely from one food source to another? Is the birdbath safe from predators? Is there year-round shelter from severe weather? Are there natural food sources for seedeaters, nectar-feeders, fruit-eaters, and insectivores?

Most songbirds feed protein to their nestlings in the form of insects, grubs, spiders, and caterpillars. Please don't poison baby-bird food by applying pesticides to your lawn or garden.

Waxwings are fond of trees and bushes that produce berries. Photo by Pixabay.com

With the above caveats in mind, the map on this page offers some plant ideas for various regions in North America that are sure to please birds.

BWD editor Bill Thompson, III, wrote five books, focusing on the backyard birds of each of the regions on the map. Each book includes information on the common backyard birds in the region, as well as tips for landscaping and creating backyard habitat for the birds. For more information or to order a Backyard Guide for Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Midwestern, or Western Birds, visit Redstartbirding.com »


Recommendations by Region

Midwest

  • Flowers and grasses: Purple coneflowers, little bluestem, native milkweed, bee balm, switchgrass.
  • Vines: Virginia creeper, native honeysuckle.
  • Shrubs and trees: Holly, eastern red cedar, elderberry, spicebush, oaks, maples, sumac, beech.

Northeast

  • Flowers: Snapdragon, nasturtium, zinnia, columbine, native milkweed, bee balm, bergamot.
  • Vines: Native honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, native bittersweet.
  • Shrubs and trees: Holly, eastern red cedar, black gum, winterberry, high-bush cranberry, elderberry, spicebush, gray birch, oaks, maples, hackberry, hemlock, crabapple, and redbud.

West

  • Flowers: Cardinal flower, penstemon, columbine, calendula, lupines, salvias, mints, native milkweed.
  • Vines: Native honeysuckle, passionflower.
  • Shrubs and trees: Ocotillo, oaks, native pines, spruce, and fir, western juniper, alder, aspen.

South

  • Flowers: Impatiens, phlox, native milkweed, cardinal flower, black-eyed Susan, asters.
  • Vines: Native honeysuckle, Virginia creeper.
  • Shrubs and trees: Buttonbush, viburnum, holly, wax myrtle, black cherry, sweet gum, native pines, oaks, black willow.

Mid-Atlantic

  • Flowers: Asters, blackeyed Susan, ironweed, coreopsis, petunia, native milkweed, Joe Pye weed.
  • Vines: Native bittersweet, greenbrier, native honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, wild grape.
  • Shrubs and trees: Holly, eastern red cedar, sumac, bald cypress, river birch, box elder, dogwood, hackberry, pawpaw, native pines, black cherry.




About Dawn Hewitt

Dawn Hewitt is the editor at Watching Backyard Birds and Bird Watcher's Digest. She has been watching birds since 1978, and wrote a weekly birding column for The Herald-Times, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, for 11 years.

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