Providing Food for Wildlife

Food is an important ingredient in your backyard habitat. Most homeowners put out a few bird feeders in their yard and figure they have done what they can to provide food. The seed-eating birds will benefit, but you can do much more to provide nourishment for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. Look around your yard and consider whether you already have some trees, shrubs, or flowers that provide food. You may have a Flowering Dogwood that bears fruits for robins and other fruit-loving birds. Maybe you have some flowers where you have seen butterflies nectaring. You have made a good start, but there is more you can do.

First of all, consider adding trees and shrubs that provide fruits or seeds for birds. Native woody plants are best, since our birds have co-evolved with our local plants and prefer their foods. Among the best trees to plant are oaks, maples, Black Cherry, White Pine, Eastern Red Cedar, and Tupelo. Good smaller trees include Flowering Dogwood, Crabapple, American Holly, and Serviceberry. For shrubs consider viburnums, Winterberry Holly, Highbush Blueberry, Spicebush, and Red Chokeberry. These native plants are also hosts for the native insects that many birds need, especially when they are feeding nestlings. By planting a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, you will probably be able to attract summer residents like wrens, orioles, catbirds, and waxwings. Also, migrating birds like warblers and thrushes will benefit significantly from your food sources.

Secondly, you can attract butterflies by adding flowers that produce nectar. Flowering plants like Purple Coneflower, Butterfly Weed, Joe-pye Weed, and the native asters, phlox, and coreopsis offer nutritious nectar and are in turn pollinated by the butterflies. It is a good idea to have flowers blooming throughout the warm months, and having at least three or more of each plant will increase you chances of attracting passing butterflies. In order to entice butterflies to reside in your yard, include caterpillar host plants like Spicebush, Sassafras, Black Cherry, Butterfly Weed, and native violets, willows, asters, and grasses. In addition to the Cabbage White Butterfly that probably visits your yard already, you should be able to entice Monarchs, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails, Mourning Cloaks, Red Admirals, and many other beautiful butterflies. Hummingbirds, too, are attracted to some of the same plants, especially if you add Bee Balm, Trumpet Honeysuckle, and Cardinal Flower.

Bear in mind, you don’t need to transform your yard into a smorgasbord for wildlife all at once. A first project might be to plant a hummingbird/butterfly garden. Each year you can add trees, shrubs, and/or perennials. Before long you will have transformed your property into a Backyard for Nature.