Bring on the birds 

If you are looking to attract a wide variety of birds to your yard, one of the best ways is to fill your landscape with native plants

| Story by Meghan McMahon |


Do you like to wake up to the sounds of birds chirping? Do you sometimes find yourself mesmerized by the birds you see out your kitchen window?

Birds are one of the most abundant forms of wildlife in our area, so it’s not uncommon to see many different species in our yards and parks at the same time: robins foraging for worms on the ground while red-winged blackbirds call out from the treetops and finches and sparrows dot the landscape. 

But if you love the sight of birds in your yard, you may have to do more than just put out birdseed to attract a greater variety. Bird feeders are a start, but the plants in your yard also play a large role in attracting birds and other wildlife. They rely on plants like trees, shrubs and even grasses and flowers for both food and shelter. And when it comes to plants to attract wildlife, native plants are best.

What are native plants?

A ruby-throated hummingbird sipping nectar from obedient plants.

Obedient plant will not only provide a pop of color to your garden, but the native plant also attracts ruby-throated hummingbirds as well as bees and butterflies. (Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Native plants are plant species that grow naturally in the region in which they evolved. They are adapted to the climate and soil of a particular area, according to the U.S Forest Service. If you’re looking to attract birds and other wildlife to your yard, native plants are best because they are an excellent food source for all manner of animals, and they also provide shelter.

Native plants have other benefits as well. They do not require fertilizer and require fewer pesticides than our manicured lawns, they don’t need as much water because they have deep root systems and they help prevent soil erosion, according to the forest service. Native plants even reduce air pollution, both because they require less mowing and maintenance and because they remove carbon from the air through the process of carbon sequestration.

Filling your landscape with native plants instead of just blanketing it with grass will not only help attract birds to your yard, but also insects, including many bees and butterflies. Many of these insects are pollinators, the animals that visit flowers to drink their nectar and feed on pollen as well as transfer pollen from plant to plant in the process.

Pollinators are crucial to humans because much of our food supply is dependent on them. Scientists estimate that one of every three bites of food we eat is because of pollinators, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many pollinators — including many species of bats, bees and birds — are threatened by habitat loss, disease, parasites and contaminants.

What to plant

A Baltimore oriole on a branch.

Baltimore orioles love grape jelly and oranges. But did you know they also frequently visit flowering trees in search of fruit, nectar and insects? (Photo via Shutterstock)

Plants native to Will County and northern Illinois include hundreds of species of grasses, flowers, trees and shrubs, so what to plant can be guided by what you like and what kind of birds you want to attract.

The National Audubon Society maintains a comprehensive Native Plants Database searchable by ZIP code, so you can get a complete list of plant species native to your area. Even better, the database can be sorted by plant type — annuals/perennials, grasses, succulents, shrubs, trees, vines and evergreens — and even by the type of bird you want to attract. If you want to see what types of wildflowers will help attract finches or what shrubs may help draw cardinals and blue jays, you can sort your results to get a more concise list of native plants for your wants and needs.

The number of plant species native to Will County is vast, so don’t assume your landscape options will be limited to just a few. The Audubon Society’s database will produce a full list of plants native to your ZIP code as well as the best results. For most Will County communities, the full list includes about 500 species and the best results number more than 100. 

Where to find native plants

Plants available for purchase at the native plant sale.

A sample of plants availabe for purchase at The Nature Foundation of Will County's Native Plant Sale. (Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Native plants have become increasingly common in recent years, as people have become more informed of their benefits and their importance to wildlife, according to the Audubon Society. But even so, you won’t find native plants in good supply at every garden center in the area.

Many local plant nurseries and garden centers carry both native and non-native plants, so make sure you do your homework before buying if you’re looking to go native in your landscapes. Ask questions and check whether individual species are native to Will County and northern Illinois before buying. You can also order native seeds online from reputable native plant nurseries.

(Lead image of an American goldfinch on a purple coneflower via Shutterstock)


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