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Native plants are a key source of food for birds. Naturally occurring plants grow seeds and berries for the birds, as well as attracting protein-rich insects. Many North American plants are also vital for nest-building materials and overall bird habitat. Let’s look at 24 native plants for birds in North America.
“Native plants are key, because they’ll keep the birds coming back to backyards for more. Berries and seeds bring in more bluebirds, orioles, goldfinches, and a whole long list of other most-wanted species.”Gardening for Birds, Butterflies, and Bees: Everything You Need to Know to Create a Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard, by the Editors of Birds & Blooms Magazine
Sunflower (Helianthus) is native to North America and is a favourite of backyard birds. There are tons of native varieties that are perfect for attracting birds to your yard. Grosbeaks, finches, jays, and robins in particular will flock to sunflowers and the sunflower seeds they produce. Leave stalks standing in autumn to provide a source of food for the birds into the cooler months.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier) bushes and trees (also called Juneberry or Saskatoon) are native plants that produce prolific amounts of tiny berries perfect for the bird population in your yard. Cedar waxwings love these little crimson berries, which look a bit like red/purple blueberries.
Coral honeysuckle is well-known for its ability to attract hummingbirds from near and far to its pink-orange trumpet-shaped flowers. The berries that follow the blooms are food for songbirds like finches and thrushes. Honeysuckle is also a common host plant for caterpillar habitat (a yummy birdy treat).
Want to take it one step further and love hummingbirds? Don’t just plant some honeysuckle but build a full fledged hummingbird garden. Here are 10 tips to get you started!
Strawberry plants make a delicious groundcover plant for visiting birds. The birds love the berries and the insects that the plants attract. Our birds tend to go for the mini wild strawberries, leaving the larger yummy varieties for us!
Native hibiscus species, such as the ever-popular Hibiscus moscheutos, produce large flowers that birds can spot from across the block. These plants are long-blooming lasting from mid-July until frost. Hardy hibiscus plants are native to eastern North America.
Coneflower (Echinacea) is another daisy-family native plant that birds love to visit. Generally purple or pink, these perennial flowers attract birds and keep them coming back to your yard for the seeds as the petals fade.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a fall favourite for the birds attracted to its dark-blue berries (as well as for gardeners attracted to its autumnal burgundy foliage). While this plant behaves kind of like an ivy, it is actually a member of the grape family (hence the attractive berries for the birds!).
Redbud (Cercis) is a North-American native in the legume family with pink flowers that are a hummingbird favourite. The following seeds are a food source for small birds like chickadees and goldfinches. The bark is also habitat for protein-rich insects.
Further Reading: 101+ Flowers That Hummingbirds Love
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) produces clusters of lovely pink-purple berries which provide food for birds into wintertime. This medium-sized shrub is native to the southeastern US.
The Sassafras tree’s fruit is a major draw for backyard birds such as thrushes, as well as larger birds such as quail, woodpeckers, and even wild turkeys. Birds are attracted to its fragrance and tend to stay for the tree’s ability to attract protein-rich insects and bugs, such as swallowtail caterpillars.
Lupin is a perennial flower with many species native to North America. Lupin flowers and seeds are a favourite of birds and gardeners alike. Songbirds love this cottage-garden classic, which naturalizes well in meadows or borders.
Native hydrangeas, such as the popular Annabelle and Incrediball types, produce large, long-lasting flowers which beckon to local birds. While these shrubs don’t produce berries, they are often home to a host of yummy insect treats that birds love.
Mountain Ash (Sorbus) is known for its red-orange clusters of berries which last on the branches throughout the winter like nature’s Christmas ornaments. Birds such as robins, bluebirds, and waxwings love to snack on these berries, as well as the spring and summer caterpillars that use these trees for habitat. Since mountain ash (rowan) trees are found in many areas, look for a North American variety such as American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Showy Mountain Ash (Sorbus decora), or Sitka Mountain Ash (Sorbus sitchensis).
Anise hyssop (Agastache) is well-known for its backyard wildlife value. Spikes of lavender-blue flowers produce tons of seeds. The birds help these plants to self-seed, often creating a lovely patch of flowers in the garden. Anise hyssop is one of the most-loved plants for pollinator insects, and is also one of the most popular native plants for birds.
Willow species native to North America are an early-spring draw for birds. The soft catkins that appear before the tree leaves out are a hot-spot for returning migratory birds. The flower buds are also a food source for cardinals and finches. Look for a native species such as Pacific Willow (Salix lucida), Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), or Coastal Plain Willow (Salix caroliniana)
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is a late-summer bloomer perfect for drawing migrating birds to your yard. Also called coastal sweet-pepper bush, this plant is native to the eastern coast of North America, from Canada all the way down to Florida.
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) is a lovely yellow daisy-type flower that birds will flock to. The plants are prolific, producing scores of flowers reliably each year, even in the coldest, most untended gardens. Each flower is loaded with lovely seeds that are a favourite of birds like goldfinches.
Blueberry bushes are native plants that provide a host of opportunity for local birds. The spring blossoms bring pollinating insects, the shrubs provide habitat for caterpillars, and the berries themselves are a tasty summer treat.
Further Reading: Companion Plants for Blueberry Bushes
Baptisia is a North American native plant with beautiful oval grey-green leaves and pretty lupin-like flowers. A member of the legume family, Baptisia thrives in woodland gardens, meadows, and flowy borders. These plants are a favourite food for certain types of caterpillars which birds love to snack on.
Blazing Star (Liatris) is not only a butterfly magnet in the spring, but is also a bird attractant once the seeds form on the tall flower stalks. Many native Liatris species are also cultivated for their use in cut floral bouquets.
Native asters such as New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) are a perfect native plant to bring into the garden for your local bird population. These late-season flowers bring a splash of colour, and are available in many different types (and heights) to fit in nicely with your garden design.
Sumac trees produce long clusters of berries which persist on the branches throughout winter. Bluebirds, flickers, and robins feast on the fruit in cooler conditions. Most cultivated species are North-American native plants (although it is possible to get imported sumac, so check the tag).
Native dogwood trees and shrubs are a favourite habitat for caterpillars – a bird’s delicacy. The bright fall berries aren’t bad either! Look for a native species such as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) or pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii).
Spruce trees and other evergreen conifers native to North America make excellent habitat for small birds like chickadees, and can also host larger birds in their upper canopies. Evergreens are also excellent companion plants for bird-magnets such as blueberries, serviceberries, and strawberry plants. Use a native evergreen species to anchor a whole plot of various native plants for birds in your area.
“Allow native plants to flourish, either in formal garden beds or by leaving part of your garden a little wild and use natural methods of pest and weed control. These are all critically important for the health of our ecosystem and the wildlife that depends on it.”Black-Capped Chickadee (Fauna: Birds), The Canadian Wildlife Federation