- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
There are three groups of plants that attract birds and each group draws different types of birds: Nectar plants, plants that provide seeds or nuts, and plants that produce berries or fruit. Many plants will provide more than one source of food, i.e., nectar in the spring and berries in autumn.
Here is a list of a few favorite native plants in each group and some of the birds they may attract.
Hummingbirds and Nectar
Hummingbirds prefer tubular shaped flowers that fit the length of their beak, and are bright in color, particularly red. Native salvias (sages), penstemon, columbine, and honeysuckle all serve up nectar for hummingbirds.
- Sages (Salvias): There are about 18 sages native to California, with Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) being one of them. The common name says it all! Fruity scented dark rose-lilac blossoms appear in March – May. It also produces autumn seeds that attract birds such as sparrows and finches.
- Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis). A small deciduous tree or shrub found in the foothills and mountains of California with distinctive shiny heart-shaped leaves. The showy bright pink or magenta flowers develop in the later winter and spring, growing in clusters all over the shrub, making the plant very colorful and noticeable in the landscape. Goldfinches and sparrows will feed on seeds produced in the fall.
- California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum). There's probably no better California native plant for attracting hummingbirds. A perennial plant, it blooms a bright profusion of scarlet flowers in spring and summer, and is often the only native California flowering plant blooming at the height of summer.
Birds That Eat Seeds
- Bush sunflower (Encelia californica), commonly referred to as "California bush sunflower.” With abundant bright yellow daises, it is beautiful in late winter through summer. Attracts goldfinches, sparrows, orioles, crows, Scrub jays, grosbeaks.
- California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense). A member of the Asteraceae family it is native to western North America. The summer blooming flowers come in blues, purples and yellow colors. It is also a host plant for the Northern Checkerspot, Field Crescent and Pearl Crescent butterflies.
- Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens), also known as Meadow Muhly and Deer Muhly, is a summer-growing, perennial bunchgrass whose seeds attracts woodpeckers, finches, grosbeaks, crows and jays.
Berry Plants are Important to Birds
Many shrubs and small trees provide berries that ripen at different times, so providing a seasonal variety, such as cherries for birds during the breeding seasons of spring and summer, and holly in winter, helps sustain birds throughout the year.
- Golden Currant (Ribes aureum). A deciduous plant that blooms in late winter and spring with golden yellow flowers that attract hummingbirds. The ripe berries in autumn are amber yellow to black in color, are edible, and attract a wide range of birds. There are two main varieties: Ribes aureum var. aureum and Ribes var. gracillimum.
- Blue Elderberry (Sambucus Mexicana). Also known as Mexican elderberry, the berries from elderberries are one of the most important sources of food for birds in California. Native from Oregon to Baja all the way to western Texas, it has cream or yellow flowers in the spring and purple berries in the fall.
- Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). Toyon is a beautiful perennial chapparal shrub native throughout the western part of California and the Sierra foothills. It is also known by the common names Christmas berry and California holly from the bright red berries it produces during the winter months, which are produced in large quantities, maturing in the fall and persisting well into the winter. Note: the berries are toxic to humans in large amounts.
- California False Buckthorn (Frangula californica). This perennial, evergreen shrub is also known as Coffeeberry due to its berries containing seeds that resemble coffee beans. The shrub produces small, greenish white flowers in the summer, followed by dark berries that are sought after by birds.
By providing a variety of native plants that produce nectar, seeds and berries to attract different types of birds, you'll be providing a healthy haven for birds all year round, along with many other species of pollinators such as bees and butterflies!
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UCCE Stanislaus County Master Gardener since 2020.
California Native Plant Society https://www.calscape.org/ and garden planner https://gardenplanner.calscape.org/
A list of plants that naturally attract California Birds to your Garden https://www.laspilitas.com/bird.htm
Audubon native plants database https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
- Author: Denise Godbout-Avant
If you have the space, plant an oak tree! While it will take several years for the tree to mature, few plants provide more benefits to nature than an oak tree. One Valley oak tree can provide food, water, and shelter to approximately 350 vertebrate species and over 250 species of insects and arachnids.
Choose plants that bloom at different times of the year, to ensure something is always blooming during the different seasons thus providing nectar sources year-round. Include some plants which produce berries to provide food sources attractive to birds and insects.
Lawns lack variety, thus reducing your lawn space and replacing it with native plants will increase the diversity in your garden. Decreasing the frequency of mowing permits grasses to grow taller, allowing flowers to grow and bloom which would attract bees and butterflies. You can also sprinkle some daisy and clover seeds into your lawn to provide forage plants and flowers for many beneficial insects.
Ponds with aquatic-loving plants can encourage amphibians such as salamanders or toads, or wetland insects such as dragonflies, to visit and set up their homes.
Butterflies engage in behavior called “puddling,” where they stop in muddy puddles for water and nutrients. You can recreate this by filling a terra cotta saucer with soil and pebbles, sink it into the ground and keep it moist. Again, change the water regularly.
Plants and rocks around the water source(s) provide shelter, camouflage, and spots for creatures like butterflies, lizards, or turtles who like to sun themselves near water.
Housing for Bees
Leave the Leaves
Leaving leaves as they drop from your trees and bushes provides food and shelter for a variety of living creatures including worms, beetles, millipedes, larvae of some butterflies and moths, toads, frogs and more. These in turn attract birds, mammals, and amphibians that rely on the smaller organisms as a food source.
One Step at a Time
Changing your garden into a wildlife haven will likely be a step-by-step process over a period of time. Building a garden attractive to wildlife will bring you the enjoyment of watching them and the knowledge you are helping wildlife thrive.
Resources listed provide information for ways to you to build a garden attractive to wildlife.
- Butterflies in Your Garden: https://ucanr.edu/sites/CEStanislausCo/files/345791.pdf
- Sustainable Landscaping: https://ucanr.edu/sites/stancountymg/Sustainable_Landscaping/
- Trees in Your Garden: https://ucanr.edu/sites/CEStanislausCo/files/341553.pdf
- Pollinator-Friendly Native Plants Lists: https://xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/pollinator-friendly-plant-lists
- UC IPM Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/
- The Bee Gardener: The Cavities You Want to Have: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=12785
- How to Make and Use Bee Houses for Cavity Nesting Bees: https://beegarden.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/How-to-build-and-use-bee-blocks.pdf
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a Stanislaus County Master Gardener since 2020./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>