When people ask me how to attract birds, bees and butterflies to their backyard, my answer always begins with planting native plants. What do I mean by native plants? A plant is considered native if it has existed in an area or habitat and was not introduced by humans. Native plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife for thousands of years and, in turn, offer the best habitat. Adding native plants can help make your yard a great place for wildlife!
Attracting birds begins with thinking about what birds eat. What would they be looking for if you were to see them in a forest preserve? Native plants can offer three main food sources for birds: seeds, fruits and insects. Planting a variety of natives that can offer all three of these foods throughout the year will get you the most bang for your buck when looking to attract birds to your backyard.
Insects that birds like to snack on are easy to attract to your yard, since they go by the saying, “If you plant it, they will come.” Insects that birds like to snack on will naturally be attracted to the natives you plant. Consider adding fruit shrubs like red osier dogwood, American hazelnut or serviceberry. Cup plant can be a great addition to a sunny garden. Birds not only love the seeds, they are also attracted to the water the cup plant holds in its leaves and will use it for both drinking and bathing.
Red osier dogwood
When using native plants to attract butterflies to your yard, consider both nectar plants and host plants. Adult butterflies eat nectar plants and young caterpillars eat host plants. Native milkweeds are the go-to host plant for attracting monarch butterflies. However, many other butterfly species benefit from host plants, too. Spicebush, Golden Alexander and pussy toes are all plants that native butterflies will use as host plants. When planting host plants, keep in mind that these plants are going to be heavily munched on so planting more is always better! A few butterfly-loving nectar plants include common ironweed, purple joe pye weed, purple prairie clover and coneflowers.
Pale purple coneflower
What about other pollinators? Native bees are incredibly efficient pollinators, but they’re not the only pollinators in town. Don’t forget about other pollinators like moths, hummingbirds, flies and beetles. Providing native plants that overlap in bloom times greatly helps all pollinators. Plants such as common boneset, yellow giant hyssop, royal catchfly, New England aster and nodding wild onion are a few good pollinator species. Planting species of plants in clumps rather than a single plant is beneficial to pollinator wildlife.
Nodding wild onion
When adding native plants to your yard, it benefits all wildlife, not just the ones you may be interested in seeing. All native plants mentioned in this post will be available to purchase at the District’s native plant sale on May 10 and 11 at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook. A few more ways to help bring wildlife in to your backyard include limiting your use of pesticides, providing a water source such as a birdbath and providing shelter or nesting boxes for birds or other pollinators.