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American Goldfinch on a favorite seed plant, Purple Coneflower.

Birds add grace, beauty and amusement to our lives with their gorgeous colors and quirky behavior.

Want to bring them to your yard?

What you plant makes a big difference to wildlife. You can attract birds with native plants that provide food: insects, nectar, berries, nuts and seeds. Providing water, shelter and places to nest will also make your yard bird-friendly.

Nearly all of our backyard birds feed insects, especially caterpillars, to their babies in the nest. Insect food is high in protein that nestlings need for rapid growth.

In just two weeks, baby birds grow from tiny, naked hatchlings to fledglings that are as big their parents and able to fly a few days after they leave the nest.

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Carolina Chickadee with caterpillar - food for chicks.

Native plants — those that occur naturally in an area — support high numbers of caterpillars that can eat their leaves. Plants that originally came from other parts of the world contain leaf compounds that most native insects won’t eat.

Without insects for food, baby birds starve. Many of our woody plants are great for caterpillar production. Native oaks, willows, cherry trees, birches, crabapples and blueberries are host to hundreds of insect species that birds feed to their young.

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A ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Trumpet Creeper.

Think hummingbirds are beautiful? Draw them to you by planting flowers with a tubular shape that provide sugar-rich nectar.

Red Buckeye (a small tree), Coral Honeysuckle (a flowering vine), Eastern Columbine and Cardinal Flower all have red blooms that attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Some of these plants start blooming just when the hummers are arriving in North Carolina after migrating north from their wintering grounds in Central America.

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Cedar Waxwing eats an Eastern Red-cedar berry.

Many birds eat berries. Add plants with berries to your yard to provide summer bird food and fuel for fall migration.

Native shrubs such as Spicebush have high-fat berries that help birds such as the Wood Thrush make their long journey south in the fall.

Flowering Dogwood, American Beauty-berry and Pokeweed are also popular with migrating birds.

Hollies such as Winterberry retain their fruits well into winter and provide food for birds that stay here during the cold season.

Perennials such as Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Thread-leaf Coreopsis and Swamp Sunflower provide seeds that feed birds in the fall.

If you don’t deadhead your plants (remove spent blooms), the seeds may persist until the following spring, providing birds with a food source all winter. Brown-headed Nuthatches eat seeds from pine cones, and Blue Jays rely on acorns, the nuts from oak trees, which they stash as a winter food source.

In addition to providing birds with foods for each season, you can welcome birds to your yard by providing water and places to shelter and nest.

Birds will drink and bathe in a bird bath. Put fresh water in it every few days to keep the birds coming. Garden features with running water are especially attractive to birds.

Evergreen shrubs and trees such as native Rhododendron and Eastern Red-cedar provide protection from predators and shelter from the cold.

Dead trees offer places for birds such as woodpeckers, bluebirds and Nuthatches to nest. These birds excavate holes in soft wood to make their nests.

If you have a dead tree in your yard that is not a safety hazard, consider leaving it up for the birds.

Or you can put up a nest box; larger 1.5-inch holes work well for bluebirds.

Smaller birds such as Brown-headed Nuthatches, Carolina Chickadees and House Wrens do well in boxes with holes that are just one inch in diameter.

In Guilford County, we see more than 200 species of birds. Of these, 50 species migrate north to breed here in the summer, and 44 migrate south to spend the winter with us.

Because native plants are so important for helping our migrant and resident birds thrive, Audubon North Carolina is partnering with local plant nurseries and growers to offer more bird-friendly native plants through the new Local Roots program.

Nurseries participating in Local Roots will feature new native plants each year so gardeners can add to their collections.

Ann Walter-Fromson is an active member of the T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society of Guilford County, the Bird-Friendly Communities implementation team for Audubon North Carolina, the Triad chapter of North Carolina Native Plant Society and the Piedmont Bird Club. She is a professor of psychology emerita at Greensboro College and a certified N.C. Environmental Educator. Contact her at

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