Wild About Utah: Native Plants For Birds

Feb 8, 2021

Female Rufous Hummingbird(Selasphorus rufus) on Red Flowering Current(Ribes sanguineum).
Credit Courtesy US FWS, Peter Pearsall, Photographer

When we are hungry, we head for the kitchen. When birds are hungry they head for plants. Native plants, in particular, provide important sources of food for birds and other wildlife.

Native plants play an important role in an ecosystem, providing the best habitat for wildlife. They are species of plants that have grown naturally in an area and thrive in an environment that matches the soils, moisture, and weather of a particular locality.

There are mutually beneficial connections for plants and birds that have evolved together. Native plants are a veritable marketplace for birds offering them nuts, seeds, fruits, nectar, and tasty bugs. They have an important influence on a bird’s diet, feeding habits, and even migration patterns. And as birds feed on the local fare they spread pollen and seeds.

This data gathered by Audubon’s Plants for Birds Program supports the planting of native species whenever possible.

- 96% of land birds feed insects to their chicks.

- Native oak trees host over 530 species of caterpillars while non-native ginkgo trees host just four.

- To raise one nest of chickadee babies, parents must gather between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars.

- Suburban yards planted with native species host 8 times more native birds.

 

Birds shape their migration patterns around native plants. Plants that produce fleshy fruit during the late summer and fall provide birds with the energy needed for long migrations.

Urbanization has resulted in a threat to native plants. According to Audubon, the continental United States has lost over 150 million acres of native habitat due to urban sprawl. Fragmentation of native plant habitat is believed to be due to the construction of cities, roads and river flow reservoirs. All of these, combined with a changing climate’s impact on timing of insect hatching and flowers opening, present many challenges to our birds.

 

You can help improve the connection between native plants and birds by adding native plants to your landscape. The native plants database developed by Audubon provides users with customized lists of native plants specific to your area, as well as the steps needed to evaluate which plants will find success in your soil. You can find the website at Audubon.org/plantsforbirds.  It’s as easy as putting in the area code, then clicking search. There are over 40 native plants listed for the Cache Valley area.

 

Finches, sparrows, and chickadees are common birds to our area and are attracted to the seeds of the common sunflower.

 

The Wild plum, provides fleshy fruit for sparrows and chickadees and insects for woodpeckers.

 

Milkweeds attract hummingbirds and insect pollinators and serve as larval hosts for Monarch Butterflies.

 

Growing native plants is something we all can do in our yards or in the community to help bird populations increase now and in the future. Consider this: native plants that are adapted to the local region require less water, fertilizers and no pesticides.

 

Check out Audubon.org/plantsforbirds to find out more. If you really dig birds, try digging native plants into your garden!