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Grow Native Plants for a Bird-Friendly Garden

Whether you've got a big garden, a small space or a single container, grow a bird garden with natives that attract cardinals, wrens and other beautiful birds.

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Photo: Jen McGuinness

How to Grow a Bird Garden in Any Size

You don't need much space to attract beautiful birds. Give them fresh water and shelter, grow fruit, seed or nectar-bearing plants and then watch your feathered friends arrive. Large shrubs and trees or masses of plants are easier for them to see, but containers or a space of any size can work. "(Providing) food from native plants ... is the best way to attract birds to your property," says Jen McGuinness, author of Bird-Friendly Gardening: Guidance and Projects for Supporting Birds in Your Landscape (Cool Springs Press).

Hummingbirds are drawn to colorful, tubular flowers like this Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis, hardy in USDA Garden Zones 2 to 8). Other natives for hummers: Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa, hardy in Zones 3 to 9), Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, hardy in Zones 3 to 8) and Fire Pink (Silene virginica, hardy in Zones 4 to 8). Before you plant, visit the National Wildlife Federation to find native plants for your area. For your native birds, visit the Audubon Guide to North American Birds or use the Merlin app.

Some birds are migratory while others inhabit one region year-round. Depending on where you live and the season, the kind of birds you see will vary.

Below, get more tips on which native plants to include in your bird garden and how to bring more birds to your space — from shady spots to window boxes.

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Photo: Jen McGuinness

Grow Native Plants in a Bird Garden

Natives are plant species that occur naturally in your region. They're easy to grow because they've adapted to your soil, light and weather and usually thrive without much extra water or chemical pest and insect controls. This planter is filled with Lance-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata, hardy in Zones 4 to 9), Blanket or Indian Flower (Gaillardia pulchella, hardy in Zones 2 to 11) and Woodland Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum, hardy in Zones 4 to 8) and other natives. It can attract waxwings, nuthatches, woodpeckers, wrens, cardinals, jays and other birds. These natives can also grow in a bigger garden space.

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Photo: Jen McGuinness

Create a Bird Garden for a Shady Spot

Not all native plants need full sun. If you have a small, shady patio or other leafy area, Jen recommends 'Bronze Wave' Coral Bells (Heuchera villosa 'Bronze Wave', hardy in Zones 3 to 8), ZigZag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis, for Zones 2 to 9), Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomeum, for Zones 4 to 11) and Virginia Creeper (Parthenoncissus quinquefolia, for Zones 5 to 11) among other natives. They'll draw wood warblers, red-eyed vireos like this one, finches, wrens, chickadees, titmice and more. Jen adds a solar bubbler to attract birds with the sounds of moving water.

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Photo: Jen McGuinness

Fill Window Boxes with Native Plants for Birds

Use window boxes for birds if your gardening space is small. Jen says West Coast gardeners can grow Desert Zinnia (Zinnia acerosa, for Zones 6 to 9), Desert Sand-Verbena (Abronia villosa, for Zones 8 to 10), California poppy (shown here, Eschscholzia californica, for Zones 3 to 9) and Wild Canterbury Bells (Phacelia minor, for Zones 4 to 10) among others. They'll appeal to hummingbirds and finches.

East Coast window boxes with full sun and moist soil can hold Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium, for Zones 2 to 8) and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa, for Zones 3 to 9). Bluebirds, doves, robins and cardinals will feast on the berries while goldfinches and orioles like Butterfly Milkweed.

For a cold climate window box, Jen recommends decorating for the winter with cut stems of Winterberry (Ilex verticillata, for Zones 3 to 9). "The birds will eventually find your window box and snag the red berries." Pair them with stems of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Cedars provide nesting and roosting sites for juncos, various sparrows, robins and mockingbirds.

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