10 Ways to Help Birds: Number 4 — Landscape with native plants to attract insects and birds
We’ve made a list of 10 things you can do to help birds, and we’re counting them down one day at a time until Earth Day, April 22.
April 19, 2021 — Even small yards can have a big impact on birds and insects. Earth Week is a good time to start revamping or enhancing your property.
Native plants host native insects that are in turn food for birds and other wildlife. Hundreds of species of pollinators and birds live in Connecticut. Ninety six percent of all birds rear their young on insects, and it takes a lot: 4,000 to 9,000 caterpillars, for example, to raise just one nest of baby chickadees!
Creating a native habitat is also critical for the survival of pollinators.
Monarch butterflies benefit from the planting of milkweeds, and there are multiple options that add both color and ecological value to your garden.
Milkweed provides an important nectar source for butterflies, and their caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of our native milkweeds. Milkweed flowers are also an attractive food source for other native pollinators.
You can learn more about all of this during Dr. Desiree Narango’s Zoom presentation, 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 21. It’s titled, “The birds, the bees, the flowers and the trees: Creating habitat for wildlife in our cities and suburbs.”
Food for birds
Some native plants also provide fruit and other food directly to birds.
The nutritious fruits of flowering dogwoods, for example, are perfectly timed with the migration of Scarlet Tanagers and thrushes. The birds in turn help to scatter their seeds across the landscape in their migratory journeys.
Many insect-eating birds will forage for insects after their long overnight migrations. So planting native flowers and shrubs that host pollinators is a great way to benefit those birds in fall.
Plant for a “stadium effect”
Different species of birds and insects like to search for food at different heights from the ground, so varying the structure of your garden is import,
It’s best if you can create what we call the “stadium effect” in your plantings.
Start with low-growing wildflowers. Gradually building to taller plants, such as goldenrod, Joe Pye Weed or Ironweed. Then native shrubs like viburnum and blueberry, and small trees such as dogwoods and cedars.
Culminate in what’s probably there already: the canopy of tall oaks, hickories and maples (or else plant trees that will one day create that canopy).
Some flowers (coneflowers, for example) benefit birds directly by providing nutritious seeds or nectar for hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers, particularly those with a tube-shaped flower, such as columbine, bee balm or cardinal lobelia.
Native plants are adapted to our region and will thrive with less watering, pesticides and fertilizer than you’d need for non-native plants.