Compiled by the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, Inc. Printable PDF version available
Why attract birds in gardens? Beyond the enjoyment many of us get from watching birds and hearing their song, birds provide very important biological links to balance our ecosystem. They distribute seeds and acorns, pollinate plants, and provide insect control to keep our plants healthy. It is this symbiotic relationship that helps balance our ecosystem. By planting native plants you will attract more birds and more native insects. While some birds will be attracted to the plant themselves, other will be attracted to the insects that the native plant attracts. Several native plants have a direct connection with birds in regard to their nesting needs, while others protect them from predators.
Plants that provide BERRIES and FRUITS:
- Arctostaphylos species (Manzanita) Red berries and tasty flowers; insects; dense cover
- Berberis species (Barberry) Tasty, summer-ripe berries; plants make good cover and shelter
- Malosma laurina (Laurel Sumac) Large drought-tolerant shrubs provide berries, shelter, and cover. Warblers love the insects this shrub attracts.
- Prunus species (Western Cherry) Woodpeckers and Jays eat the fruits whole; smaller birds pick off the pulp from large seeds
- Rhamnus species (Redberry & Coffeeberry) Summer berries tasty to Jays, Thrashers, Robins, Thrushes, Phainopeplas
- Ribes species (Currants & Gooseberries) Berries are relished by Quail, Thrashers, Thrushes, Robins, Finches, Towhees, etc.
- Symphoricarpos species (Snowberry) Thrushes love snowberries.
VINES and vine-like plants
- Lonicera species (Honeysuckle, Twinberry) Many birds like the berries and this vine when full grown offer excellant cover.
- Rosa species (Wild Rose) The nutritious hips enjoyed by Quail, Pine Siskins and Goldfinches; plus it offers excellent thorny cover
- Rubus species (Blackberry, Salmonberry) Berries for birds and other wildlife, plus thick bramble is good for cover
- Vitis spp., Wild Grape – Small tasty fruit appealing to numerous birds; tangle of vines is fine nesting site
TREES and Tree-like Shrubs
- Fragaria species (Strawberry) Berries are nibbled on by a variety of birds
- Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon) Bright red berries provide winter food for many birds
- Sambucus mexicana (Elderberry) Probably the 'best' bird oriented tree you can plant; attracts a huge vaiety of birds.
Birds that enjoy berries
The Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), a summer visitor from the Sonoran desert loves berries.
Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are seasonal berry eaters and travel in large flocks.
The Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) eat insects and relish snowberries
Hooded Orioles (Icterus cucullatus) will eat berries and occassionally will come to hummingbird feeders.
Plants that provide SEEDS that attract birds
Most all native provide some type of seed that attracts birds but here's a couple suggestions...
- Achillea millefolium, Yarrow – seeds eaten by ground-feeders such as Mourning Doves
- Grasses – nutritious, high-fat seeds; thatch provides good nest-weaving material
- Oenothera elata ssp. hookerii, Hooker’s Evening Primrose – showy annual/biennial bears large crop of seeds for goldfinches
- Penstemon species., Penstemon – seeds eaten by sparrows and other small songbirds.
- Atriplex lentiformis ssp breweri, Quail Bush – excellent cover and perching site; many birds eat seeds and salty leaves. Quail love this shrub! One of the best bird plants.
- Lavatera assurgentiflora, Tree Mallow – Goldfinches eat the seeds, which are produced in quantity. Quail are attracted to this plant as well.
- Salvia species, Sage – seeds eaten by many small songbirds, especially Goldfinches.
Birds that enjoy seeds
Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) are seed eaters and use grasses for nest building.
White Crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) are seasonal (Fall to Spring) visitors to Southern California and prefer seeds (especially thistle).
House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) are one of the most common seed-eaters found in the garden.
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) are found of sunflower seeds and seasonal visitors (Springto mid-summer).
Western Scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) are the replanters of oak forest burying caches of acorns throughout the yard.
SHELTER and NESTING MATERIALS:
"Cover" is one of the most important features you can put in your garden to attract and protect birds.
- Baccharis species., Coyote Brush/Mule Fat W – cover, nesting sites, abundant seeds
- Ceanothus species., California Lilac – visited by many birds for seeds, shelter, nesting, etc.
- Alnus rhombifolia, White Alder – Warblers, Goldfinches, Pine Siskins; buds eaten by Cedar Waxwings
- Juglans californica, Southern California Walnut – Jays and Band-Tailed Pigeons eat the nuts
- Platanus racemosa, Western Sycamore – Black-Chinned Hummingbirds; Finches, Cedar Waxwings, Pine Siskins
- Populus fremontii, Fremont Cottonwood – winter buds and capsules used as food
- Quercus spp, Oak – excellent habitat tree for all kinds of birds: provides insects, acorns, nesting sites, cover, etc.
- Salix spp., Willow – unripe capsules eaten by Warblers, Thrushes, Fox Sparrows, Flycatchers and Finches
Birds that keep your yard healthy by eating insects
The Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) is a worm eater and found in areas with wildlife interfaces.
Spotted Towhees (Pipilo maculatus) primarily dig through mulch looking for an insect meal, but will eat seed as well.
Yellow-rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata) eat primaily insects and love Malosma laurina.
The Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) loves several types of smaller seed and is often often on dried sage flower stalks and Cirsium occidentale
Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) are surburban adapted woodpeckers, eating both seed and insect and collecting oak acorns.
Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) is found at oak forest edges and helps to keeps your trees free of wood-boring beetles.
- Your cat belongs inside. They have an unfair advantage outside; they're well-fed, rested and healthy. The average 'Outdoor' domestic cat eats kills over a dozen birds a year (most of which the cat owner doesn't see). Domestic cats are a major factor in the decline of songbird populations and are a non-native species here.
- Plant some dense or protective shrubs of varying heights by your feeding areas so your avian visitors can get a good look around to make sure everything is safe, as well as have the cover to protect them if a predator arrives.
- A water feature is one of the best ways to attract birds. It can be as simple as a bird bath. If you build it, they will come.
- Hummingbird food is simply sugar water. Boil some water, mix in as much sugar as you can, let in cool and fill your feeders. Hummingbirds don't need the red dye and there is some debate the dye could be harmful to the birds.
- If you use feeders, clean them regularly, wash them in a vinegar solution. Diseases, such as finch eye disease, can be passed by dirty feeders.