Frequently Asked Questions
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
1. Why are native plants so important?
Native plants, especially those that are local to our area, provide the fruits, nuts, seeds, and nectar that are nutritious, digestible, and well-timed to meet the needs of our birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. They are also hosts to the native microorganisms and insects that are essential components of our ecosystem. Besides, locally native plants are less work for the homeowner. Because they are suited to our local climate and soil, when planted in the right spot, they don't need to be watered or fertilized.  When you replace grass with native plants, there'll be less mowing as well. Plus, with locally native plants you are helping to preserve the biodiversity and gene pool of our area.
2. Don't I need a big yard to provide a wildlife habitat?
An average-sized suburban yard is plenty big enough to provide the food, water, cover, and places to raise young that are needed for wildlife to thrive. Even a balcony or patio can attract wildlife, especially birds and butterflies, with container plants, water, bird feeders, and birdhouses.
3. Won't my yard look unkempt?
For the sake of the neighbors, you may wish to have a traditional-looking front yard with some grass combined with flowering shrubs and perennials. Actually, both your front and back yards can be designed attractively using native plants. There is a large variety of woody plants and perennials that have handsome flowers, berries, foliage, bark, and shape. You can put the showiest plants in the most visible places such as around your front entrance and back patio. A nice, crisp edging that curves gracefully around the beds can create a naturalistic, but manicured appearance.  Using mulches and native groundcovers will help keep weeds under control... A brush pile, fallen logs, leaf litter, and any less attractive looking plants can be relegated to the more remote sections of your yard, if you wish.
4. Do I need to rip out my non-native plants?
No, you can keep your favorite ornamental plants. However, when choosing new plants, select local natives that are attractive to birds and other wildlife. On the other hand, you should remove invasive plants, which are aggressive and threaten our native ecosystems. Some of the worst offenders are often found on residential properties. These include Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, Canada Thistle, Norway Maple, Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Stitlgrass, and Japanese Honeysuckle.
5. Will I need a landscape designer?
Probably not. Even if you want to completely redo your yard, you can create a landscape design on graph paper. First sketch in your house, garage, driveway, existing trees, and any other permanent features in your yard. Next, based on discussion with your family members and your own ideas, start to sketch in additional areas for plants. Around the periphery of your property, you may want to sketch in some large trees. Underneath these trees, you can fill in smaller trees and shrubs with perennial plants and grasses in front. If you have room, you can add other islands of vegetation, perhaps a hummingbird/butterfly garden, a meadow, or a swath of small trees and shrubs. Before purchasing the plants, do some research so your selections reflect their requirements for sun or shade and wet or dry soil. Of course, you probably will not be able to do everything the first year, but you can execute your plans over several years.
6. Where can I get native plants?
Several of the local nature centers hold native plants sales. There are native plant retailers as well as mail order nurseries and a few local retail and wholesalers that specialize in native plants as well.
7. Why don't more birds come to my feeders?
The most likely reason is a lack of cover. If your feeders are too exposed, the birds will feel threatened by predators. Plant some trees or shrubs nearby, and the birds will likely start using your feeders. However, the branches should be no closer than ten feet away; otherwise, squirrels will be able to jump on your feeders and help themselves.  Also, if the seed is spoiled, clean the feeder and replace it with a fresh supply. A variety of bird foods, for example, black oil sunflower, safflower, nyjer (thistle), peanuts, and suet will attract the greatest variety of birds.  Keep in mind that except in severe weather, bird feeders should be considered as supplemental to the natural foods in the surrounding habitat.  Bird feeders are wonderful for bringing some of the seed-eating birds into easy viewing range so we can enjoy them up close; however, a greater variety of birds will find an abundance of foods from the native plants on your property.
8. Why don't hummingbirds come to my nectar feeder?
Hummingbirds are more likely to come if you place you feeder next to nectar producing plants like Trumpet Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, Cardinal Flower, Bee Balm, or other flowers known to attract hummers. Later the feeder can be moved to a window for easy observation. Of course, the nectar should be fresh and the feeder placed fairly close to a tree or shrub with places for perching.
9. How can I attract more birds to my yard?
Instead of additional feeders,  you probably need more native plants to provide the essentials for their survival. For food they need plants that offer fruits, nuts, seeds, nectar, and insects that feed on the foliage and bark. These same plants, whether trees, shrubs, grasses, or perennials, can also offer cover and places to raise young. Since the lawn offers so little to birds, consider reducing the area devoted to grass to make room for vegetation that will benefit them. Provide layers of dense vegetation including canopy trees, small trees and shrubs, perennials and groundcovers.  By eliminating pesticides, the native insects on which birds depend will flourish. Water and nest boxes will help make your yard more attractive as well.
10. How do I get my yard certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat?
If you have food, water, cover, and places to raise young and practice sustainable gardening you can have your property certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. You can download the Application for Certification from their website. There is an application fee. After your yard is certified, you can purchase a Backyard Wildlife Habitat sign to post in your yard.

Audubon Pennsylvania offers a Bird Habitat Recognition program.  Take the Healthy Yard Pledge and complete the online application at You can purchase a Bird Habitat sign to post.