Setting up a bird feeder is a tried-and-true method for attracting birds to your garden, but birds are looking for more than just food when seeking out a favorable habitat. By growing plants that attract birds you can create an environment that not only attracts a broader range of bird species, but your outdoor space can become a place for birds to truly call “home”.
The right selection of annual and perennial flowering plants attract birds with food in the form of nectar, seeds, and insects. Birds invest a lot of energy in nest building and raising their young, so they also look for dense vines, trees, and shrubs that offer seclusion for building nests, protection from predators, and shelter from harsh weather conditions. By growing plants that attract birds you can work with nature to create a haven that will not just appeal to feathered friends, but you’ll also love the colors and seasonal interest those plants can bring to your garden.
Annuals that Attract Birds
Annual flowers are essential for supplying continuous color and plant variety in a garden. Annuals are also a great way to attract birds to your garden. They’re usually small enough that even if your “garden” is confined to a deck, patio, or balcony, you can still grow an assortment of flowering annuals in containers and enjoy the color, movement, and songs that birds bring to a space. Here are three flowering annuals you can count on to draw birds to your outdoor spaces.
Marigolds (Tagetes species)
Marigolds are a bright and cheerful addition to any garden, and they’re also great for attracting birds. Marigolds come in a range of vibrant colors, from sunny yellow to fiery red. The nectar from the marigold blooms will attract hummingbirds and other small birds looking for food. The dense foliage can provide shelter for small ground-feeding birds.
Deadheading is recommended for marigolds through the summer to discourage seed production and keep the plant’s energy focused on flower production. By late autumn, however, you may want to let the flowers go to seed since the plants won’t survive past a couple of hard frosts. Birds will happily consume the marigold seeds!
Zinnias (Zinnia species)
Zinnias are another popular annual flower that attracts birds and they come in a variety of colors, forms and sizes. Their vibrant colors really stand out in the garden, especially when plants are grouped closely together to create a mass of mixed color. Zinnias produce nectar, which is attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies, but if you allow the flower heads to mature, all types of birds will arrive to feed on the zinnia seeds. The plants themselves offer protection against harsh weather conditions, such as strong winds or heavy rainstorms, by providing a place for smaller birds to quickly take cover.
Sunflowers (Helianthus species)
Sunflowers make excellent additions to gardens because their bright flowers not only add bold color, but they also attract a variety of wildlife as birds and mammals compete for the nutritious, oil-rich seeds. Sunflower seeds provide sustenance for a variety of wild birds, including finches, cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers. Their broad leaves offer refuge during inclement weather such as a sudden downpour. These days sunflower hybrids are available in an array of sizes and flower forms. For maximum seed production you’ll want to choose sunflower varieties that produce large blooms and seed heads.
Annuals like marigolds, zinnias and sunflowers are a great way to entice birds into your garden and add color to your landscape all season long. If you’re planning a long-term garden, you’ll also want to include some perennial plants that attract birds.
Perennials that Attract Birds
Perennial flowering plants are an excellent choice for gardeners looking to attract birds and at the same time minimize the amount of time and money invested in landscaping. Perennial plants return every year and don’t require a lot of maintenance; usually just needing some tidying up in the fall or early spring. Black-eyed Susan, columbine, and coneflower all offer a variety of benefits that make them attractive plants for birds to visit.
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species)
Black eyed Susan (also commonly called rudbeckia) is a familiar perennial flower, easily recognized by its cheerful daisy-like flowers with black “eyes” that are produced over a long season, from mid-summer through the fall. Black-Eyed Susan is easy to grow in most climates and can be found growing wild throughout North America. The seeds produced by this plant are high in protein making it popular among birds like cardinals, finches, chickadees, and sparrows.
Columbine (Aquilegia species)
Columbines are one of the first perennial plants to flower in the spring making them a welcome food source for hummingbirds returning after their spring migration. Insects will also be drawn to these early bloomers as they seek out nectar and pollen and that will, in turn, attract birds that feed on insects. Insects are an important source of protein for many birds, especially during their spring mating season.
Columbine plants are very ornamental in the garden with deeply scalloped foliage and uniquely shaped flowers formed by tubular petals. Columbine flowers can be found in shades and bicolor combinations of pink, red, purple, yellow, or white. Plant them in a group for the most color impact.
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Coneflower rounds out our trio of perennials that attract birds. Plants produce large daisy like blooms in shades of purple, orange, yellow, and white depending on the variety you choose. It’s important to know that some hybrid coneflowers may be sterile or poor seed producers. If you’re mainly interested in providing a seed source for birds, you’ll want to stick with the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Coneflowers are popular for use in pollinator gardens to attract bees and butterflies, but they also provide sustenance for seed eating birds such as goldfinches and cardinals who will happily feast on the seed heads at the end of the flowering season. Coneflowers are drought tolerant once they are well-established, so in the heat of summer you can focus your efforts on refreshing the water in your birdbath, instead of watering plants.
You don’t need a big garden to grow perennial plants that attract birds. Plants like black-eyed Susan and coneflower will grow happily in a pot on a sunny deck, patio, or balcony. Whether your landscape space is large or small, trees are important for creating an environment that will appeal to birds and other wildlife. Many birds favor small, understory trees that offer food, nesting sites, and a place to perch in safety.
Trees that Attract Birds
Gardens require trees to look complete, and they’re also an effective way to lure in feathered friends. Crabapple trees, dogwood trees, and redbud trees are all popular choices for bringing in a variety of birds. These trees provide sustenance and a place for birds to call home. They also offer multiple seasons of interest and they’re sized right for nearly any outdoor areas, even small urban spaces!
Crabapple Trees (Malus species)
The crabapple tree is an excellent choice for attracting a wide range of bird species due to its abundance of flowers and fruit. Insects are drawn to crabapple flowers for pollen and nectar, and those insects become a healthy food source for birds. Later, as the crabapples ripen, you can expect a wide range of birds, including robins, cardinals, waxwings, grosbeaks, and finches, just to name a few. The small fruits are easy for little birds to eat and larger birds may carry fruits away and eat them wherever they please. If you can get to the fruit before the birds do, crabapples can be used in all the same ways as full-sized apples for making jelly, juice, sauces, or baked treats.
Dogwood Trees (Cornus species)
Dogwood trees are popular for landscaping and they’re also great trees for attracting birds. Dogwoods provide birds a place to nest or perch and their spring flowers eventually produce small berry-like fruits that appeal to many types of birds, including cardinals, robins, grosbeaks and tanagers. The relatively small size of dogwood trees is ideal for planting near your house, deck, or patio where you can enjoy the songs and antics of your feathered friends up close.
Redbud Trees (Cercis canadensis)
Redbuds are another favorite among backyard bird enthusiasts because they are exceptionally ornamental and provide a reliable food source for birds. Redbud tree branches are lined with showy clusters of pink or purple blossoms in early spring, before many other plants have even started budding out. Flowers are followed by an abundance of attractive pea-like seed pods, and by late spring the tree is covered in a canopy of beautiful heart-shaped foliage.
Redbud is a native North American tree, perfect for naturalizing in wooded areas but also small enough to use as a focal point in a flower border surrounded by annual and perennial plants that attract birds. Hummingbirds are drawn to redbud’s flowers in spring, but you can expect a variety of different birds later, when the seed pods ripen, including grosbeaks, cardinals, finches, juncos, and chickadees.
Deciduous trees offer birds a place to call “home” by offering food, refuge, and safe nesting spaces. Evergreen shrubs and trees offer similar benefits but with the advantage of providing shelter in the winter months too.
Evergreens that Attract Birds
Evergreens are some of the most versatile plants for landscaping. They give an area a sense of structure, year-round color, and offer food and refuge to birds and other wildlife. Three of the most popular evergreens for landscaping and for attracting birds are; arborvitaes, junipers, and pines.
Arborvitae (Arborvitae species)
Planting a row of arborvitae shrubs is a common solution for creating a windbreak, hedge, or privacy screen but even a single tree will be appreciated by birds during their mating season. Arborvitaes are a favorite nesting place because birds can build a nest deep within the dense foliage to safely raise their young. The thick foliage also offers winter birds protection from cold winds and snow. Arborvitaes are available in wide range of shapes and sizes so you should be able to find one suitable to your situation.
Juniper (Juniperus species)
Junipers are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes – from groundcovers to hedges to tree forms; there’s a juniper for just about any situation. Junipers are incredibly durable, adapting easily to poor soils and drought conditions. Birds enjoy the protection that juniper’s dense foliage provides for nesting or just resting. Junipers produce small berry-like cones that are typically eaten by birds later in the winter, when their preferred food sources are exhausted. During warm weather many birds like to forage for spiders and other bugs hiding among juniper’s branches. A few of the birds you are likely to attract with a juniper are: robins, grosbeaks, cedar waxwings, mockingbirds, and a wide variety of songbirds.
Pines (Pinus species)
Pinecones are an important source of seeds for birds and other wildlife in the winter. Birds that commonly feed on pine seeds are finches, nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks and woodpeckers. Birds also like the shelter that pines provide for nesting and the fine needles are handy for use in nest building. Dwarf forms of pine are available for smaller garden spaces.
Birds seek out evergreens for shelter from the cold and winds of winter, protection from predators, and as a source of seeds and berries for food. Evergreens are also a smart choice for landscaping. They add reliable color and there’s a size and shape to suit just about any landscape situation. Mixing evergreens with deciduous shrubs is a great way to add seasonal interest and attract an even wider range of bird life.
Shrubs that Attract Birds
Shrubs that attract birds usually have something special to offer in the way of nourishment, nesting, or shelter. In the landscape shrubs provide the perfect transition between low-growing annual and perennial plants and trees. Many produce colorful flowers that help entice birds and pollinators that are attracted to specific colors. Even a single shrub used as a foundation plant or focal point in a border, creates an opportunity to support a variety of feathered friends.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
Butterfly bush is an ideal shrub for attracting birds to your garden. This deciduous shrub offers a stunning array of flower colors in shades of purple, pink and white. Butterfly bush blooms in summer and the flowers are produced in clusters that provide high-impact garden color. The sweet nectar of butterfly bush blooms is a valuable food source for hummingbirds and other pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. The foliage provides shelter and protection from predators.
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster species)
Cotoneaster is a lovely, easy-to-grow shrub that produces white flowers in the spring followed by loads of nutritious red berries that will be ready for birds to enjoy in the fall and winter. Cotoneaster berries add brilliant color to small gardens. Varieties are available in sizes that top out between 18-36” (46-91cm) in height so you can offer an optimal food source even if you have limited space. Cotoneaster berries attract a diverse range of feathered friends including, blackbirds, robins, finches, thrushes, mockingbirds, and waxwings, just to name a few.
Lilacs (Syringa species)
Lilacs may be most famous for their incredibly fragrant flowers but they are also a perfect shrub to attract birds. Lilacs’ large panicles of pink, purple, or white flowers bloom in late spring or early summer – just when most migratory songbirds are returning from their winter habitats. The tiny tubular flowers provide much needed nectar for hummingbirds and the insects attracted to the pollen and nectar are a high-protein food source for a diverse range of birds. The thick branches and dense foliage of a lilac shrub create an inviting space for birds to build nests where young chicks can be safely sheltered until they fledge (leave) the nest.
Combining shrubs with a variety of flowering annuals and perennials can result in a garden that is beautiful, fragrant, and an inviting habitat for bird life. Vines offer yet another great option for bird-friendly gardening, as they provide one more option where birds can rest and feed.
Vines that Attract Birds
Vines are a favorite landscaping solution for covering unsightly walls, fences, and stumps or growing on a trellis to create a quick privacy screen. Vines can also provide food, shelter and nesting sites for many birds. Because they can be trained to grow up a trellis or wall, vines offer gardeners with small spaces a unique opportunity to expand their bird habitat by taking advantage of vertical space. Trumpet vine, honeysuckle vine, and clematis are all popular selections because of their garden beauty and ability to attract a variety of birds.
Trumpet Vine (Campsis species)
Trumpet vine is an especially ornamental vine with decorative foliage and bold trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of yellow, orange, red or pink. This plant provides a plentiful source of nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees to enjoy. The bright blooms also make it a great addition to any flower garden. Trumpet vine offers excellent nesting sites due to its layers of dense foliage that helps protect against predators while providing privacy for baby birds during developmental stages.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera species)
Honeysuckle vines produces fragrant, nectar-rich blossoms that are a magnet for hummingbirds. The white or yellow flowers are followed by berries that can attract many types of songbirds such as robins, cardinals, blue jays, chickadees and more. Honeysuckle plants are easy to grow from cuttings or seeds, so you don’t have to worry about buying expensive plants at the nursery. They grow fast and provide lots of cover for nesting birds too.
Clematis (Clematis species)
Clematis is another beautiful choice for attracting feathered friends into your yard. This hardy perennial vine grows quickly up trellises or fences. Clematis flowers are big and showy and offer a great source of nectar that will draw in hummingbirds. After the blooms fade, other bird species will be attracted the fluffy seed heads of clematis. They may feed on the seeds or gather the “fluff” for nesting material. The dense vines of a clematis vine create a safe place for birds to build nests.
These three varieties offer something special when it comes to attracting birds into your garden; they provide both sustenance and shelter while adding vibrant color and fragrance along the way.
FAQs for Plants That Attract Birds
What plant attracts the most birds?
The plant that attracts the most birds is typically a flowering shrub or tree. Flowering trees and shrubs provide nectar, seeds and fruits on a grand scale to support the largest number of birds. They allow birds to perch high above ground-dwelling predators, find shelter for nesting, or just provide a secluded place to rest in the shade on a hot day. Plants that attract birds can be supplemented with feeders filled with seeds to attract even more species of birds to your garden. By combining the correct plants and feeders, it is possible to transform your garden into a vibrant environment where birds can thrive year-round.
What are the Best Plants to Attract Mockingbirds?
Mockingbirds are a beautiful addition to any garden. Enticing mockingbirds to your garden requires understanding the types of vegetation they are drawn to and the best ways to position those plants in the landscape.
Mockingbirds are especially drawn to trees and shrubs such as azaleas, hibiscus, hydrangeas, oaks, maples, pines, and cypresses where they can comfortably nest and find refuge. Fruit trees and berry bushes offer substantial food sources for mockingbirds, and you can expect lots of visitors as the fruits ripen. When planting trees and shrubs you’ll want to ensure they are spaced far enough apart to allow mockingbirds ample space to move around in your garden.
What are the Best Plants to Attract Hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds are cheerful little creatures that bring joy, color, and movement to a garden. Many people put out nectar feeders to attract hummingbirds in the summer but with the right plants you can enjoy an abundance of hummingbirds with minimal effort. The best plants for attracting hummingbirds include tubular-shaped flowers like columbine, foxglove, larkspur, trumpet vine, hostas, and petunias. These types of flowers provide nectar that is easy for hummingbirds to access with their long beaks. By planting a variety of hummingbird’s favorite flowers, you can ensure there are food sources available through the seasons.
What are the best Plants to Attract Cardinals and Blue Jays?
Cardinals and blue jays are two of the most beautiful birds to have in your garden. To attract these birds, you need to choose plants that provide them with food and shelter. Some of the best plant varieties for cardinals and blue jays include sunflowers, berry-producing shrubs such as raspberries and blueberries or grape vines, native trees such as oaks, maples, and mulberries, and wildflower meadows. By selecting a variety of plants that cardinals and blue jays prefer, you will help create a diverse habitat for these birds.
Gardening for birds can be a rewarding experience and add a dimension of sight, sound, and movement to any garden space whether large or small. With the right plant choices, you can focus on attracting just your favorite birds or create a vibrant ecosystem that appeals to many bird species.
Birds invest a lot of time and energy into building nests that provide a protection for eggs and a cozy, safe place to raise their babies. Learn how you can make your garden even more attractive to birds with tips on the best Nesting Materials for Birds.