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Garden Obstacle: Birding with Native Plants

Long Island is a fantastic place for birding, whether in a park or your backyard.

To increase the amount of birds in your yard you will need a fresh water source. This can be a birdbath*, pond, fountain (small or large), or small patio water garden. Water helps birds stay hydrated and clean and it cools them off during the hot summer months.

Shelter is also important for nesting and safety (to elude predators). The shelter can be a brush pile behind a shed, stacked wood piles, nesting and roosting boxes, dead trees (if they can be safely kept on-site without posing a threat to your house or yourself), and a layered woodland (see pic below). The layered woodland will also provide places for insects, which the birds will rely on for food. You don’t need a lot of space to do this. It can be a small corner in your yard, a fence line, a stand-alone island bed and even created with large planters!

Woodland Layers (KMS Native Plants)

And last but not least, food from berries to seeds to nectar. This is where our native plants are most important and are the obvious choice for bringing birds into your yard. Many of our native trees, shrubs, and perennials are host plants**. A host plant is a plant a butterfly or moth relies on to lay their eggs and have food for the larvae when they emerge.

Bird feeders and suet feeders*** (best for cold weather as high temperatures can turn it rancid quickly) are okay for supplemental food in the late fall and winter but come spring and summer remove this feature to encourage the birds to forage for caterpillars, seeds, and other natural food sources. It is also very important to keep the area below the feeders tidy to discourage rats and diseases. Using a ‘no mess’ (no husks or shells) mix of seed and nuts will help to keep the area below the feeders cleaner. Simply rake and throw away any feces and shells at least once a week.

Native Plants for Native Birds

This is a short list of native plants to bring in the native birds. You don’t need all of them to attract the birds, just a few will make a big difference in your yard!

Trees - necessary for nesting, food and shelter

Betula nigra - River Birch

Celtis occidentalis - Common Hackberry

Ilex opaca - American Holly

Ilex verticillata - Winterberry

Juniperus virginiana - Easter Red Cedar

Persimmon virginiana - Common Persimmon

Prunus maritima - Beach Plum

Prunus serotina - Black Cherry

Prunus virginiana - Chokecherry

Quercus species (Red, White, Black, Pin, Bear)

Salix discolor - Pussy Willow

Salix nigra - Black Willow

Sassafras albidum - Sassafras

Shrubs - understory layers and great for providing shelter and food

Amelanchier canadensis - Serviceberry

Amelanchier laevis - Allegheny Serviceberry

Aronia arbutifolia - Red Chokeberry

Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry

Callicarpa americana - American Beautyberry

Cephalanthus occidentalis - Buttonbush

Cornus alternifolia - Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus florida - Common Dogwood

Cornus racemosa - Gray Dogwood

Ilex glabra - Inkberry

Ilex verticillata - Winterberry

Rhus typhina - Staghorn Sumac

Sambucus canadensis - Black Elderberry

Vaccinium corymbosum - Highbush Blueberry

Viburnum dentatum - Arrowwood

Perennials: field and herb level for shelter, food, and nesting material

Echinacea purpurea - Purple Coneflower

Lobelia cardinalis - Cardinal Flower

Rudbeckia laciniata - Laceleaf Coneflower

Solidago odora - Sweet Goldenrod

Solidago sempervirens - Seaside Goldenrod

Vines: provide shelter and food

Lonicera sempervirens - Coral Honeysuckle

Parthenocissus quinqefolia - Virginia Creeper

Some of our native feathered friends:

White-breasted Nuthatch

Tufted Titmouse

Cedar Waxwing enjoying the berries on Eastern Red Cedar

Female Northern Cardinal in winter

Northern Mockingbird in late winter

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker attending to her brood

The 26th Great Backyard Bird Count will be happening from February 16th through February 19th. This is a great time to start birding and sharing it with others, especially children. This is worldwide and for a good cause. For more information:

Photos: KMS Native Plants


*change the water daily and be sure to thoroughly clean your bird baths at least once a week. I use a few drops of dawn liquid soap and a stiff scrub brush. Make sure you rinse thoroughly.

***Remember to clean your feeders at least every two weeks with 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Make sure it dries completely before filling it with food again.



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