by Rosemary Jann
Want to attract more birds to your yard? Construct a habitat for them by using native plants that have evolved to provide the food and shelter birds and other wildlife need to thrive. To attract hummingbirds, for instance, try the nectar-producing trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) or the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Coneflowers in the Rudbeckia family produce seeds that are favorites of goldfinches. The berries of native hollies and viburnams can sustain birds through the winter.
In addition to producing seeds, flowers, and fruit, our native plants nurture the high-protein insect life that many birds—especially hatchlings–depend upon. Carolina chickadees require over 5,000 caterpillars to raise a single nest of young! Because so many insects have evolved into specialists who feed only on particular kinds of native plants (like Monarch butterfly larvae on milkweeds), planting a wide variety of natives can significantly diversify the wildlife you attract to your yard.
Without pollinators, plants cannot produce the fruits, vegetables, and seeds that nourish us as well as other animal life. Many of our endangered pollinators—ants, flies, bees, butterflies, moths, even some bats—also prefer particular native plants over non-native ones. By choosing natives that flower at different times of the year you help sustain pollinators across seasons and build not just a garden, but the foundation for a healthy ecosystem.