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Gardening for birds calls for native plants


For more than 100 years, the Audubon Society has created communities where humans and birds can live together. That mission has become more urgent as the climate changes, migratory patterns shift and the effects ripple down on all of us.

Birds matter. They help plants reproduce by spreading seeds. They eat insects, some of which spread disease in humans, and they are food for humans and animals. They’re good for the economy just by being themselves; bald eagle tourism is a great example, notes the Audubon Society.

Birds are also sensitive to environmental change (think the canary in the coal mine), so they’re an indicator when things are starting to go wrong.

Birds rely on native plants, but often we opt for non-native plants in our gardens; they might be pretty, but they can become invasive. Invasive plants choke off native plants and can potentially “degrade the native habitat,” Audubon New York writes in their article “Plants for Birds."

The loss of native plant habitats, said Carolyn Summers of Flying Trillium Gardens and Preserve, means the loss of the insects and birds that were sustained by those plants. “More than 96 percent of birds, including hummingbirds, raise their young on tiny insects and insect larvae, not nuts and berries. No caterpillars [equals] no baby birds,” she said.

If we want to bring birds home, we need to create an environment that they’ll love to return to. It is a simple thing to do; it gets you started on the sustainable-gardening path.

Choose wisely

Meaning plant choice. Go to your local lawn and garden store: They can steer you in the right direction and tell you the best way to start. (We all have different soil, and your garden store knows it.)

If you need some ideas, the Audubon Society has a database of native plants. Simply visit www.audubon.org/native-plants and plug in your zip code, and the results will display plants that are native to your region.

 I came up with 98 plants, each of which has a list of birds (with pictures) attracted to that plant. Nothing could be easier if you want to provide a home for our local birdlife right outside your window.

Gardening for birds is an easy way to start gardening sustainably, and you’ll know that the benefits will ripple out from your little garden and help spread something wonderful back into the world.

“With all of the truly bad news coming at us, it comes as a relief, to me at least, to know that what I’m doing is making a huge difference, right here, right now,” said Summers. “The power to garden sustainably provides me the best antidote to feeling hopeless about the state of the world.”

The bird world invites you

Sullivan Audubon is having its first spring meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 19 at SUNY Sullivan in room B113. President Kate Hyden said they’ll be talking about identifying and attracting birds with plants, feeders and peas. So if you have questions, you can ask the experts! Visit their website at www.sullivanaudubon.org.

In Pennsylvania, NEPA Audubon welcomes bird-lovers and people with questions, too. Mark your calendar: on Wednesday, June 3, they’re presenting a program on gardening for birds at 6 p.m. at the Park Street Complex in Honesdale. Give them a call at 570/253-9250.


Native plant databases:



Audubon database

Invasive plant list

National Garden Clubs

NY Audubon Society 

Sullivan Audubon 

NEPA Audubon  | 570/253-9250

Contact Carolyn Summers through her website. 

birds, native plants, gardens, sustainable


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