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Diggin' It

These native plants attract birds to your winter garden

Water and a plethora of native shrubs and trees will encourage birds to make their home in your yard this winter.

By Mary-Kate Mackey / December 21, 2009

An unusual white Oregon junco comes for water in a bird-friendly garden.

Photo courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey.


When you have water in your garden, you have extended an invitation for birds to linger. And why not? Color, sound, and movement — birds are the aerial element in your horticultural endeavors. By definition, it can’t be a garden without these fascinating fliers.

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However, don’t invite birds for a drink without providing for their other needs — sources of food, shelter, and safety from predators. That’d be like asking your friends to come live visit you on the edge of a barren lake without furnishing meals, a roof over their heads, and cellphone service — not hospitable.

So now, when your yard is in winter mode, get out your gardening wish list and add bird-friendly plants. You wouldn’t plan a big party without a list, so why not start next spring’s garden extravaganza now, when you’ve got some time?

For maximum appeal, think native.

Birds that live in your area have evolved alongside the indigenous plant species. Consider hunting down reputable sources (never dig up in the wild) for the same plants you commonly see in surrounding meadows and woods. As well as supporting local bird populations, natives have those other positive gardening advantages — simple care requirements and low maintenance.

But just because a plant is labeled “native” doesn’t mean it will work for you. Native plants, and the birds they attract, vary widely around the United States.

For instance, Audubon recommends that if you live in the Northeastern part of the country, you should plant trees like Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) which attract bluebirds, purple finches, and evening grosbeaks.

In the Southeast, they suggest Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) to bring Eastern kingbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, and Northern flickers.

In the central prairies, they tout gray dogwood shrub (Cornus racemosa) [PDF] for Northern cardinals and downy wrens.

If you live in the Western mountains or deserts, try Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), which appeals to cedar waxwings and Northern mockingbirds.

Along the Pacific coast, California live oak (Quercus agrifolia) attracts a wide variety of species, including oak titmouse, western scrub jays, and black-backed chickadees.

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