Native Plantings For Songbirds

What we think of as “silence” is rarely just that. Anywhere we find ourselves, nature's sounds hover in the atmosphere, mingling with the ambient drone of activity and industry. The songs of native birds specifically are ever-present but oft-unheard, rewarding those who choose to listen with a variegated sonic landscape bursting with life.

While birdsong has a number of benefits to humans — studies have shown that it improves our mood and instills feelings of relaxation — birds sing in most cases either to attract a mate or defend their territory. In Southern California, that means the trilling of the Spotted Towhee, the cheerful inflections of the American Robin and the soft, warm coo of the Mourning Dove. We do our part by creating habitats that provide food and shelter for birds, who then distribute seeds and acorns, pollinate plants and control pests. By planting our gardens with native plants that attract birds, we maintain balance in our ecosystems and sustain the songs of nature.

Below we share some of our favorite California native plantings and the native birds they bring to the garden.

Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) + Mourning Doves

The aromatic, fern-like leaves of the yarrow attract birds like the Common Starling, who use the plant to line their nests. The seeds are a main source of food for the Mourning Dove, who can be found grazing on the fallen seed on the ground.

Quercus spp (Oak) + California Scrub Jay

If a garden is home to an Oak Tree, it's sure to attract the California Scrub Jay, a vibrant, electric-blue bird that performs a series of hops and lunges during mating season. While beautiful to look at, the acorn-loving Scrub Jay's "song" can be described as more of a screech, and the species is known for the cacophonous "funerals" that occur when a member of their family group dies.

Ribes species (Currants and Gooseberries) + Spotted Towhee

Members of the Ribes genus, which includes about 200 known species of flowering plants, are the chosen delicacy of many native birds, including quails, thrashers, robins, finches and the chirping Spotted Towhee.

Penstemon (Beardtongues) + White-Crowned Sparrow

The sweet, whistled song of the White-Crowned Sparrow may be heard in the gardens of those who have planted flowering species of the Penstemon genus, whose members provide charming blooms in a broad spectrum of colors to choose from. The native Californian sparrow and other small songbirds are drawn to the seeds of species in this genus.

Helianthus californicus (California Sunflower) + Black-headed Grosbeak

The seeds of California's native sunflower are the food of choice for the Black-headed Grosbeak, a medium sized-bird with a tawny orange breast, black head and black wings. The Black-headed Grosbeak is a migratory bird that travels from British Columbia through the western half of the United States into central Mexico, and it makes a rich, singsong call.

Sambucus mexicana (Elderberry) + Various species

The Elderberry is considered one of the best bird-oriented trees one can plant in their garden as its small, dark, nutritious berries draw a wide variety of bird species including grosbeaks and tanagers. The flowers of the Elderberry also attract various insects, which in turn attract even more bird species in the spring.


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