How to Create a Bird Friendly Garden

Plant native plants to bring in the birds.

Plant native plants to bring in the birds.

Not too long ago, we came across a pamphlet from the Saint Paul Audubon Society on sustaining songbirds and other wildlife in your garden. It’s not a long booklet, but is full of great ideas for creating bird friendly garden that benefits native insects and other critters, too.

The key to sustaining songbirds and other creatures is to plant native plants. They are the basis of a healthy ecosystem. Because they are adapted to our climate and soils, native plants tend to need less coddling in terms of water and fertilizer. Moreover, they are the plants that native bees, butterflies, caterpillars, spiders, wasps, beetles and other insects developed around. According to the Audubon booklet, studies show native plants support 35 times more insects than non-native plants.

And, what do baby birds eat? Lots and lots of insects. The bulk of the booklet is a list of trees, shrubs and perennials that support native insects and therefore songbirds. Among the plants listed are:

Oaks, especially bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and white oak (Q. alba). Oaks attract more than 500 larval insects and their acorns are vital to the survival of other wildlife.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) attracts 287 kinds of larval insects and the seeds are eaten by wildlife. As they name implies, expect a bright red fall show from these trees.

White pine (Pinus strobus) is an evergreen that thrives in sun to light shade and dry or moist soil. Almost 200 larval insects are attracted to the white pine and the cones provide food sources. I’ve seen a few birds nesting in my white pine, too.

Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a 5 to 13 foot tall shrub that hosts 115 larval insects and offers three seasons of beauty with its white flower, white berries and maroon fall color.

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) is a pretty, easy to grow perennial that attracts 23 larval insects. It forms a nice carpet in ideal growing conditions, which include part sun to shade and moist, humous-y soil.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a form of milkweed that monarch butterfly caterpillars love. (Check this out to see what they did to one of my plants!)

There are many, many more native plants to try, including favorites like swamp milkweed, blazing star and wild bergamot.

You can download a PDF of the booklet here or see more about sustaining songbirds at the Audubon Society website.