Birds and Blooms: A Perfect Pair
By George Harrison, Contributing Editor
Birds and blooms are a natural duo, depending on each other for survival. Birds not only eat flowers, but they also consume the fruits, berries, nuts and seeds that flowers produce. In return, birds pollinate flowers and spread their seeds.
I recently watched a pair of cedar waxwings eat the flower petals off an apple tree in full bloom. They had built a nest on a branch of the same tree, so they had plenty to eat without leaving home. Waxwings are just one of the birds that look to blooms for survival. Hummingbirds are among the most common winged visitors to flower gardens. The nectar of red geraniums, petunias, impatiens, fuchsias and cardinal flowers draw passing hummingbirds like a magnet.
Any plants that produce berries also are popular among our feathered friends. American highbush cranberry, elderberry and American mountain ash will all attract birds, such as gray catbirds, American robins, northern cardinals, cedar waxwings and northern mockingbirds. Seed-producing plants are a hit, too. These flowers will attract a variety of birds, including finches, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and buntings. Rudbeckias, coneflowers, liatris and sunflowers are some top choices.
Thistle plants are also valuable to seed-eaters. American goldfinches even delay their nesting season until the blue-flowering bull thistles go to seed. The birds use the thistle down to build their nests and the seeds to feed their young. The next time you’re preparing your garden, keep the birds in mind when selecting the plants you want to grow. You can add color and feathered friends to your yard with the right blooms.
Readers share some of their favorite plants for attracting birds to their backyard.
Since I started planting perennial bachelor’s buttons and purple coneflowers in my yard, I’ve seen more American goldfinches than ever before. —Jill Hersch, Ayr, North Dakota
We’ve had a lot more hummingbirds in our backyard since we added bee balm, cardinal flower and ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ honeysuckle. The honeysuckle blooms early spring until frost.
—Barbara Mohr, Elkhorn, Wisconsin
I’ve found hummingbirds love my columbine, coral bells and red and purple salvia. —Georgia Stewart, Field Editor, Hebron, Illinois
My honeysuckle doesn’t stop attracting birds when its flowers fade. Its succulent berries are great for attracting cedar waxwings later in the season. Be careful to select only noninvasive species. —Gary Clark, Knowlton, Quebec
I have had more visitors at my hummingbird feeders since I planted butterfly bush and trumpet vine near them. — Marianne La Fountaine, Fremont, Ohio
I often see American goldfinches flocking around my cosmos—especially in autumn as the plants go to seed. I’ve counted at least a dozen finches bouncing from one stem to another in search of seeds. —Cherie Boulton, Hayward, California
After years of planting flowers for birds, I’ve developed a good list of my favorites. For blue jays, try planting plumed cockscomb, marigolds, sunflowers, four-o’clocks and hibiscus. For hummingbirds, plant morning glories, orange and red gladiolus, perennial sweet peas, lantana and turkscap lilies. —Marsha Melder, Field Editor, Shreveport, Louisiana
I’ve found two types of purple flowers that attract lots of winged activity—stokesia and liatris (sometimes called blazing star or gayfeather). Stokesia, also called stokes aster, looks like an annual aster with narrow purple petals extending upward. Liatris produces long spikes of blooms with green leaves shooting out from the main stalk.
—Gloria Meredith, Harrington, Delaware
I’d discovered mountain bluets and zinnias provide food for American goldfinches. The birds bend the drying flower heads to the ground as they land on them, then pull out the seeds with their bills. It’s fascinating to watch. —Charlene Margetiak, Norwalk, Ohio
I plant hollyhocks and cannas to attract hummingbirds. —Sandra Voss, Granville, Iowa
Buntings and finches really love the tall spikes of blooms that appear on our common mullein. This wildflower is perfect for our feathered friends. —Marcia Sinclair, Marion, North Carolina
Plant geraniums, rose of Sharon and rhododendrons to attract more hummingbirds to your backyard. They are great plants all summer. —Tina Jacobs, Wantage, New Jersey
Plant pink and red azaleas, petunias and daylilies to attract hummingbirds. Their funnel-shaped, nectar-producing blooms and bright hues will invite the winged jewels to your backyard. —Laura Horning, Miffletown, Pennsylvania
To attract orioles to your yard, plant nectar-producing flowers like red-hot poker. —Allison Schott, Brantford, Ontario
Hummingbirds seem to prefer the nectar of my cypress vines. As soon as the vines start blooming, the birds ignore my sugar-water feeders and spend all their time at the flowers instead. —Josephine Ayers, Aiken, South Carolina