Wren on Redbud

by Doreen Smith
from her slide presentation for the January 2000 Marin CNPS membership meeting

Before humans altered the native California vegetation patterns the native birds occupied all habitats in Marin County. If you are planning to garden with some or all native plants you might want to know which birds are most compatible with which plants. Birds require cover, nesting sites and food. Many plants provide all three. A balance of trees, shrubs and herbaceous species is ideal for both humans and birds. If your garden is on the margins of one of the wildland areas, the birds most attracted to that plant community are in the neighborhood and likely to visit you. Some very urban areas also have native bird populations. If you like herbaceous perennials, hummingbirds are particularly easy to attract in Marin County. One thing to remember is that if you use chemical pesticides in the garden, the insects many birds feed on become poisoned and poisonous to the birds; it is unkind to attract birds to such a spot. Usually an “organic” garden can be attractive to humans and in balance ecologically. Provide water, keep your cats inside and enjoy your birds and flowers.

Native Trees for the birds

Trees are the backbone of a garden and if you are lucky you naturally have one or more natives already present in your landscaping. If you are considering planting trees many are fast-growing, such as Redwoods and Pines. Be cautious with these, think of the likely result of 10 or more years growth. Alders, Bays, Buckeyes, Maples and Oaks are slower but still can make large trees in a surprisingly short time, however the habitat for birds is superb.

Alnus rhombifolia
Red-breasted sapsucker, Pine siskin, American goldfinch, Mourning dove, Yellow warbler, Song sparrow, Purple finch, Cedar waxwing, Kinglets, bushtits, and vireos
Umbellularia californica
Flowers feed hummingbirds
‘Nuts” when crushed can be eaten by Yellow rumped warblers
Good shelter foliage
Aesculus californica
Bark insects attract woodpeckers and nuthatches.
Arbutus menziesii
Flowers eaten by Black-headed grosbeak and Band-tailed pigeon.
Fruits attract Song sparrows, flickers, grosbeaks, robins, thrushes and waxwings.
Acer macrophyllum
Seeds and flowers eaten by Evening grosbeak, Black- headed grosbeak, goldfinches, and pine siskin.
Good for insects for warblers, vireos, bushtits and kinglets.
Quercus spp.
Some of the greatest bird trees! Nest sites, insects, acorns. You name it, it is likely to visit, oak titmice etc. etc.
Pinus spp.
If you have these, juncos, creepers and chestnut-backed chickadees will visit. Pt. Reyes denizens can expect pigmy nuthatches.
Sequoia sempervirens
Attracts forest birds, juncos, chestnut backed chickadees. creepers.

Native Shrubs for the birds

Many are drought tolerant, ideal in our Mediterranean climate

Arctostaphylos spp.
Edible fruit can attract mockingbirds, robins and Cedar Waxwings.
Low-growing shrubby cover for quail and wren-tits.
Flowers for hummingbirds.
Artemisia californica
Cover for coastal birds.
Baccharis pilularis
Cover for nests and seeds for goldcrowned sparrow.
Insects for other bird species.
California “Lilac”
Ceanothus spp.
Seeds for bushtits, mockingbirds, quail and finches.
Good cover shrubs.
Cercis occidentalis
Hummingbirds go for nectar, goldfinches will eat seed.
Creek Dogwood
Cornus sericea
Western tanager and warblers eat the flowers
fruits for Grosbeak, Northern oriole, flickers, robins, thrashers, vireos, woodpeckers, sparrow and finches
Heteromeles arbutifolia
Fruit for Cedar waxwing, California towhee, Spotted towhee, Western bluebird, robins, mockingbirds, bandtailed pigeon, waxwing, quail.
Oregon grape
Mahonia spp.
Fruit taken by robins, finches, towhees
Flowers have nectar for hummingbirds.
Mimulus spp.
Cultivars come in several colors, hummingbirds.
Myrica califonica
Berries attract flickers, robins and finches.
Holly-leaf cherry
Prunus illicifolia
Catalina cherry
Prunus lyonii
Fruit for robins, finches, towhees, cedar waxwing.
Rhamnus californica
Black juicy fruit in fall for thrushes, jays, mockingbirds, robins, bandtailed pigeon and purple finch.
Gooseberries, currants
Ribes spp.
Berries for the. usual birds as above.
Flowers in early spring for hummingbirds.
Native roses
Rosa spp.
Only for the wild garden, but have vitamin-laden fruit.
Salix spp.
Few recommended for gardens but if you have them they are very desirable to many spp. of songbirds.
Sambucus spp.
Ripe berries feed many. species of bird, host to insects
High on birds favorite list!
Symphoricarpus spp.
Hummingbirds like the flowers.
Makes shrubby thickets for cover.
Berries are palatable to hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, robins and other spp.
Vaccinium ovatum
Flowers for hummingbirds, berries for the usual suspects.

Native herbaceous plants for birds

Most of these are hummingbird attractors, many are red or pink, their favorite colors:

Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
Red Larkspur, Delphinium cardinale
Bleeding heart, Dicentra formosa
Alum Roots, Heuchera spp.
Leopard Lily, Lilium pardalinum
Scarlet Monkeyflower, Mimulus cardinalis
Blue Penstemon, Penstemon heterophyllus
Flowering Sage, Salvia spp.

Native annuals provide seed that birds relish

Any California native spp. e.g. Baby-blue-eyes, Tidytips

Fruit from native groundcover

Strawberries, Fragaria chiloensis and Fragaria vesca

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