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Bird-Friendly Plants for the Native Garden

Garden Guides | At Your Home Garden Design Service | In House Bed Design | Garden Tune-Up Service
Check out this article from the San Francisco Chronicle (08/23/07): Plants that make birds feel at home

The incredible variety of native plants assembled in Yerba Buena Nursery’s garden within pristine natural surroundings provides a unique opportunity to observe a wide variety of birds (and other wildlife!) and their native plant preferences.  Here we share some of what we’ve learned over years of observation. 

What Plants Provide

Birds rely upon plants for virtually everything they need for survival. Apart from directly providing food for many species, they also serve as a home, provide nesting material, and give protection from predators (meow). The plants you select can even have a great effect on the number of insect-eating birds to visit your garden – by planting the species that provide insects with food, you will be attracting the birds in turn. Most plants provide more than one of these crucial elements. Following is a list of our best plants for attracting birds to your garden, broken down into which benefits they provide. For plants that provide seasonal benefit (i.e., flowers, seeds, or berries), keep in mind that planting species that flower or fruit at different times of year will greatly increase the benefits of your yard. While all the plants on this list are great for attracting birds, an asterisk * denotes the plants within each category that provide the best bird value of all.


Following is a list of California natives suggested for use in a bird friendly garden.  These plants are chosen for the broadness and usefulness of the resources they provide to birds; they are also selected for their reliability and ease of cultivation in the garden.

Plants are categorized by type of resource offered. Notice that many plants occur in more than one category.  Seasonal variations in resource availability are noted where appropriate.

( * = best bird value for this resource )

Plants for Habitat

A wide variety of native plants provide nesting sites and protection from predators. Following are some of the most popular among the birds that frequent our garden.

Botanic NameCommon NameOther Benefits
Arctostaphylos spp.Manzanita Nectar
Ceanothus spp.Wild Lilac Seeds, Insects
*Quercus spp.Oaks Seeds, Insects
Baccharis pilularisCoyote Bush Seeds, Insects
Myrica californicaWax Myrtle Fruit
Sambucus mexicanaElderberry Fruit, Insects
Rhamnus californicaCoffeeberry Fruit, Insects
Heteromeles arbutifoliaToyon Fruit
*Salvia spp.Sage Nectar, Seeds, Insects 
*Salix spp.Willow Insects
*Ribes spp.Gooseberries Nectar, Fruit


Plants for Nectar

Planted mostly for their value to hummingbirds, nectar-rich plants also attract a variety of insects, which are a food source for hummers as well as other species.

Botanic NameCommon NameSeasonOther Benefits
Arctostaphylos spp.Manzanita Winter Habitat
*Ribes spp.Currants and Gooseberries Winter Fruit
Salvia spp.Sages Spring-Summer Habitat, Seeds, Insects
*Mimulus spp.Monkeyflower Spring-Fall Insects
Lonicera spp.Honeysuckle Spring Fruit
*Epilobium spp.California Fuchsia Summer-Fall
*Penstemon spp.Penstemon Spring-Summer


Plants for Fruit

Many species of birds depend on the fruit produced by these plants for the bulk of their diet. These shrubs attract an amazing number of birds in their fruiting season.

Botanic NameCommon NameSeasonOther Benefits
*Vitis californicaWild Grape Summer Insects
Myrica californicaWax Myrtle Fall-Winter Habitat
*Sambucus mexicanaElderberry Summer-Fall Habitat, Insects
Rhamnus californicaCoffeeberry Summer-Fall Habitat, Insects
Ribes spp.Currants and Gooseberries Summer-Fall Nectar, Habitat
*Heteromeles arbutifoliaToyon Fall-Winter Habitat
Berberis spp.Oregon Grape Summer-Fall


Plants for Seeds

The following plants produce an abundance of seeds which birds relish.

Botanic NameCommon NameOther Benefits
*Ceanothus spp.Wild Lilac Habitat, Insects
Quercus spp.Oaks Habitat, Insects
Baccharis spp.Coyote Bush Habitat, Insects
*Salvia spp.Sages Nectar, Habitat, Insects
variousBunchgrasses Insects


Insect-Attracting Plants

When we say "insect-attracting", this does not mean "pest-ridden". Most bugs are not garden pests, and many actually prey upon less desirable garden residents like aphids before being consumed in turn by birds. In addition to the particular plants listed here, plants which produce a flat-topped flower (i.e. Yarrow or Buckwheat) are excellent for attracting beneficial insects to your garden.

Botanic NameCommon NameOther Benefits
*Quercus spp.Oaks Habitat, Seeds
Baccharis spp.Coyote Bush Habitat, Seeds
Sambucus mexicanaElderberry Habitat, Fruit
Rhamnus californicaCoffeeberry Habitat, Fruit
Mimulus spp.Monkeyflower Nectar
*Ceanothus spp.Wild Lilac Habitat, Seeds
*Salix spp.Willow Habitat
Salvia spp.Sages Nectar, Seeds, Habitat


Tips for Wildlife Gardening

Apart from selecting the right plants to attract birds to your garden, there are a couple simple things you can do to increase your garden’s value even more.  One way is to provide a year-round water source in your yard. Birds need to drink and bathe every day, and watching them do it in your yard is a delight. Many species such as hummingbirds prefer flowing water, but a simple birdbath is much better than no water source at all.  A water source will be especially attractive if there is safe cover nearby to which birds can flee if danger approaches.

Another thing you can do to keep birds in your garden is to not keep your garden in pristine condition.  Leave some seed stalks standing.  When you do prune plants back, leave trimmings in a pile and allow any remaining seeds to continue to disperse.  The brush piles we create in late summer and fall are some of the most active corners of our garden, as are the shrubs we didn’t get to with the clippers, and which continue to drop seeds from thir spent flower stalks well into winter.

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Yerba Buena Nursery
(650) 851-1668

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@ Pastorino Farms
12511 San Mateo Road (Highway 92)
Half Moon Bay, CA

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 3188
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

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