how do plants help birds

Your garden is your outdoor sanctuary. With some careful plant choices, it can be a haven for native birds as well. Landscaped with native species, your yard, patio, or balcony becomes a vital recharge station for birds passing through and a sanctuary for nesting and overwintering birds.

Each patch of restored native habitat is just that—a patch in the frayed fabric of the ecosystem in which it lies. By landscaping with native plants, we can turn a patchwork of green spaces into a quilt of restored habitat.

More native plants mean more choices of food and shelter for native birds and other wildlife.

To survive, native birds need native plants and the insects that have co-evolved with them. Most landscaping plants available in nurseries are exotic species from other countries. Many are prized for qualities that make them poor food sources for native birds—like having leaves that are unpalatable to native insects and caterpillars. With 96 percent of all terrestrial bird species in North America feeding insects to their young, planting insect-proof exotic plants is like serving up plastic food. No insects? No birds.

For example, research by entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that native oaks support more than 550 different species of butterflies and moths alone. The non-native ginkgo tree supports just 5. Caterpillars are the go-to food source for migrant and resident birds alike. In the 16 days between hatching and fledging, a clutch of Carolina Chickadee chicks can down more than 9,000 of them.

Tallamys work points to native landscaping as a key tool in increasing bird diversity and abundance. In a study of suburban properties in southeast Pennsylvania, for example, eight times more Wood Thrushes, Eastern Towhees, Veeries, and Scarlet Tanagers (all species of conservation concern) were found in yards with native plantings as compared with yards landscaped with typical alien ornamentals.

What’s more, the habitat provided by native plants can help birds adapt and survive amid a changing climate. More than half of North American bird species are threatened by climate change, and native plants can help increase their resilience by giving them food and places to rest and nest.

When you landscape with native species, you can spend more time with the birds and less time with the mower. How does that boost human health? During the growing season, some 56 million Americans mow 40 million acres of grass each week—an area eight times the size of New Jersey! Mowers and weed-whackers burn gasoline to the tune of 800 million gallons per year, contributing to the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.

If you’ve ever filled a lawn mower or weed whacker with gas, you know that spills happen. The EPA estimates that Americans spill more than 17 million gallons of fuel each year while refueling lawn equipment, polluting the air and groundwater. Older, less efficient two-cycle engines release significant amounts of their oil and gas unburned. The less lawn you mow, the less air and water pollution you create.

Less lawn also means less noise pollution. According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, a typical gas-powered push mower emits 85 to 90 decibels for the operator (90-95 for riding lawnmowers). That doesn’t just scare away the birds—it can cause hearing loss over time.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30 to 60 percent of fresh water in American cities is used for watering lawns. Native plants have adapted to thrive in their regional landscape, without added water or nutrients. With climate change models predicting increased episodes of extreme drought such as California is experiencing, it’s a good time to shift to water-wise yards and native plants.

Cultivating vertical structure in your yard by planting many different species of herbaceous flowering plants, shrubs, and trees creates layers of vegetation that deflect pounding rains, increasing the chance for water to be absorbed by your soil before running off into storm drains and streams.

Less lawn mowing, fertilizing, and pesticide application means cleaner air and water. Homeowners apply nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides to lawns in the United States each year. What’s more, they use up to 10 times more pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. During storms, lawn chemicals can be carried by runoff and wind, contaminating streams and wetlands many miles away.

Native plants are often hardier than non-native ornamentals and thrive without pesticides or fertilizers. Moreover, as you work to create a bird-friendly sanctuary in your yard, insects that may have seemed like pests before become allies. Since caterpillars are premium bird food, the holes they make in your oak’s leaves are badges of success and the caterpillars themselves cause for celebration.

Less lawn means less time mowing, weed-whacking, and edging. Landscaping with native plants isn’t maintenance free—invasive weed species are an ongoing issue in any garden. But with careful landscape planning and plant selection, you can create a garden space that minimizes the ongoing input of time and money. That’s a mighty nice change from constant lawn care. And when the mower’s tucked away, you can hear bird song in the silence that reigns.

What does a beautiful outdoor space look like? What does it mean to have a “well-kept” yard? For decades, our standard of green beauty and orderliness has centered on a carpet-like lawn and manicured foundation plantings, an aesthetic that largely excludes birds and other wildlife, and has a hefty carbon footprint. By putting in native plants, you can create a colorful, visually appealing landscape that helps give birds a fighting chance in a changing world. So get digging for birds—then sit back, relax, and enjoy watching them as they flock to your yard, deck, or balcony. Heres how to get started with your bird-friendly yard! Or, start searching now for native plants for birds in your area with Audubons native plant database.

Native plants provide birds with the food they need. Use our database to discover the best plants for birds in your area.

By planting a variety of herbaceous flowering plants, shrubs, and trees in your yard, you can create vertical structure and increase the amount of vegetation that deflects heavy rains, allowing more water to be absorbed by your soil instead of flowing off into storm drains and streams.

Additionally, native plants’ habitat can aid birds in adjusting to and surviving in a changing climate. Climate change threatens over half of North America’s bird species, but native plants can help make them more resilient by providing food and places to rest and nest.

Native plants grow well without pesticides or fertilizers and are frequently harder than ornamentals that are not native. Moreover, insects that once seemed like pests turn into allies as you work to turn your yard into a bird-friendly sanctuary. Because caterpillars are a premium food source for birds, their holes in the leaves of your oak tree are symbols of achievement, and the caterpillars themselves are a cause for celebration.

Native plants provide birds with the food they need. Find the best plants for birds in your area by using our database.

You can spend more time with the birds and less time with the mower when you landscape with native species. How does that improve human health? Approximately 56 million Americans cut 40 million acres of grass every week during the growing season—an area eight times the size of New Jersey! Mowers and weed-eaters use 800 million gallons of gasoline annually, which adds to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Hummingbirds aid in pollinating flowers so that they can yield seeds, which are needed to grow more plants. Birds are beneficial to plants as well. Blue Jays and some other birds actually plant seeds. The seeds sprout and grow into new plants because they gather and hide them for later consumption but don’t go back for the rest. Birds also spread seeds when they eat fruit. The fruit’s seeds are not broken down and are released into the bird droppings. A new plant will sprout and grow where the droppings land, frequently far from the original plant. Birds also help control the population of leaf-eating insects by consuming a large number of the tiny creatures that consume plant leaves, such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, and more.

Plant life is the foundation of life on Earth. From the largest to the smallest, all living things, whether on land or in water, rely on plants to provide them with the energy they require to develop and flourish. This is due to the fact that plants use photosynthesis, which uses energy from the sun along with carbon dioxide and water from the atmosphere to create food. Animals can’t do that. When animals consume plants or other animals that have consumed plants, the sun’s energy is transferred.

Prepare to learn more about the relationship between native plants and native birds. The student magazine Plants Are for the Birds! is a great place to start. You’ll find it in the column to the right. You’ll find out inside that it’s not always easy to tell a “weed” from a “pest,” and you’ll learn how to be kind to both plants and birds. You’ll get the opportunity to go outside and look for every item on a checklist of native plants and birds. Make sure to explore all the other entertaining sections of this website in addition to the magazine.

The strong ties that exist between plants and birds make it clear why it’s crucial that native plants be preserved in our yards, parks, and other natural areas. In addition to giving birds what they need, plants also benefit other native animals that live nearby. Native plants have benefits for people, too. They don’t clog streams or wetlands, push out other plants, or spread so quickly or thickly. Compared to nonnative plants, they require less water, fertilizer, and general upkeep because they are adapted to the climate and soil. Put another way, native plants typically thrive on their own without assistance!

Native plants hold a healthy ecosystem together. The plants that have adapted over time to thrive in a specific environment are known as “native” plants. They possess the qualities required to live there in the wild and coexist with all other native animals, from the tiniest insects to the biggest mammals, who have coevolved with them. Plants are the primary source of food and energy for all other organisms in any habitat. Let us now concentrate on the interaction between native plants and native birds. The majority of birds build their nests in trees or bushes, though some do so on the ground. Birds hide in trees and bushes during the night to roost and avoid being eaten by predators. What do birds eat? They consume fruits, nuts, seeds, and nectar, which is produced by plants. They also consume fish, small mammals, frogs, spiders, lizards, insects, and snakes—all of which either eat plants or animals that have eaten plants.

FAQ

How do plants benefit birds?

Birds retreat to trees and bushes as protection from predators and to rest and roost. And directly or indirectly, plants provide all the foods that birds eat. Seeds, nuts, and fruit help sustain many birds all year long, and some species also nibble nutritious plant buds or sip flower nectar.

How do gardens help birds?

Planting gardens and landscaping your yard is one of the best ways to help birds as they seek out food sources, nesting habitat, protection, and more. Not only do plants provide food such as seeds, fruit, nectar, and sap, but they also provide habitat for insects, which are essential for birds and their young.

How do birds benefit flowers?

As birds feed on nectar, pollen from the flower sticks to their bodies. When they move to another flower, some of the pollen rubs off onto the flower’s stigma, the part that receives pollen, allowing fertilization to occur. In this way, birds help plants create seeds and produce new generations of plants.

What attracts birds to plants?

Berries attract various birds. Flowers attract hummingbirds; Berries attract thrushes, quail, towhees, robins, and finches. Flowers attract Anna’s, Allen’s, and Rufous Hummingbirds; Berries attract thrushes, quail, and towhees.