Be Your Own Birder

Plant Flowers for Birds!

A lush, colorful yard with brilliant flowerbeds always seems to attract more birds, and in fact flowers can be ideal bird magnets. But which blooms are best for which birds?

Petunias - Photo by anneheathen
Petunias – Photo by anneheathen

How Flowers Help Birds

There are more than 360,000 different types of flowers and flowering plants in the world, and each and every one can be beneficial to birds. Depending on the type of flower, it may…

  • Produce rich, sugary nectar for birds to sip
  • Mature into fat-rich seeds birds can eat
  • Decay into down-like material suitable for nesting
  • Support insects that provide rich protein for birds
  • Develop into fruits for fruit-eating birds
  • Attract birds to rich habitats with bright colors
  • Be part of a diverse habitat to support birds’ needs

Not every flower can perform every purpose, but every single flower can be useful for birds in at least one way. Birders can take advantage of that usefulness by adding a wide range of amazing flowers to their landscapes.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers are the perennial favorite of birds and birders, and these large, super-easy-to-grow blooms mature into heavy stalks with hundreds or thousands of seeds in a single bloom. Sunflowers come in a range of sizes and colors, from miniature sunflowers less than a foot tall to giants that tower over 10 feet in height. The easiest way to find bird-friendly sunflowers is simply to choose a few plump seeds from your birdseed mix (choose seeds with shells, since already shelled seeds will not sprout), and plant them. You can also buy packets of sunflower seeds in a wide range of cultivars from any seed station in a garden center, but take note of which hybrids are noted as good seed-producers, since some heavily engineered sunflowers produce few, if any, seeds.

Sunflower Field - Photo by Vishwas Krishna
Sunflower Field – Photo by Vishwas Krishna

When sunflowers are young, nectar-hungry birds, including hummingbirds, may sample a few sips from the blooms, and different birds will feast on any gnats or other insects around the colorful flowers. The real bounty is when the sunflowers mature, however. Once seeds have formed (and birds will probably already have had a few nibbles) the broad blooms can be cut off the stalk and allowed to dry so the seeds will be easier to remove. The whole heads can be left out for chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, jays, titmice, and other birds to pluck out the seeds themselves, but take care to save a few for your next crop!

Nectar-Rich Flowers

Some of the best known bird-friendly flowers are those that produce copious amounts of sugary nectar, exactly what hummingbirds crave. These flowers often have tapered or tube-like shapes to collect greater quantities of nectar and entice birds (as well as butterflies and insects) to dip deeper into the bloom. As birds nudge into the petals to seek out nectar, they often get pollen on their bills and heads, which helps transmit pollen between flowers for more fertilization and even more blooms.

Columbine - Photo by Jim Morefield
Columbine – Photo by Jim Morefield

Some of the most popular nectar-rich flowers include:

  • Bee balm
  • Bleeding hearts
  • Butterfly bush
  • Cardinal flower
  • Columbine
  • Coral bells
  • Desert trumpet
  • Fuchsia
  • Lupine
  • Petunia
  • Red fireweed
  • Salvia
  • Scarlet creeper
  • Trumpet vine
Fuchsia - Photo by likeaduck
Fuchsia – Photo by likeaduck

These are only a few of the best nectar flowers, and there are many cultivars of each one that can be amazing bird magnets not just for hummingbirds, but also for other nectar-loving birds such as verdins, orioles, house finches, and warblers, all of which will nibble at sweet blooms for a taste of nectar. Look for flower varieties with plentiful blooms and reblooming habits in order to feed the most birds, and take note of each flower’s growth needs, including sunlight levels, moisture, and soil type to ensure it can grow its very best.

Seed-Bearing Flowers

Not all birds drink nectar, but there are many seed-bearing flowers that can tempt finches, sparrows, quail, turkeys, pheasants, doves, towhees, buntings, siskins, and many other species. Popular and productive seed-bearing flowers include:

  • Aster
  • Black-eyed susan
  • Coneflower
  • Cosmos
  • Daisy
  • Dandelion
  • Hibiscus
  • Marigold
  • Poppy
  • Violet
  • Zinnia
Purple Coneflowers - Photo by Tom Stovall, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
Purple Coneflowers – Photo by Tom Stovall, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

To provide the best food source for seed-loving birds, these and other seed-bearing flowers must be allowed to mature so their seeds fully develop. Birds will happily pluck seeds directly from older blooms, or scratch along beneath flower stems in search of fallen seeds. This is a great option for autumn birds, and any seeds that aren’t snacked on can reseed the area and grow into new blooms the following year, providing even more free birdseed.

Colorful Flowers

Some flowers just don’t do a lot for birds, food-wise, but they can still be useful in a bird-friendly yard. The bright colors of blooming flowers will catch birds’ eyes, bringing them closer where they can more easily notice feeders, baths, houses, and other resources. Colorful flowers also attract insects that are protein-packed snacks for birds. This is especially true for many early spring flowers, such as crocuses, tulips, and daffodils, which aren’t too bird-friendly themselves, but can give birds and birders alike a welcome sign of spring.

Tulips - Photo by Riza Nugraha
Tulips – Photo by Riza Nugraha

National Plant-a-Flower Day

March 12 is National Plant-a-Flower Day, and the perfect time to plant bird-friendly flowers in the yard. If it’s still a bit too early for outdoor planting, consider planting a container that could be moved outdoors to attract birds as the days warm up, or just enjoy a beautiful bit of spring in an indoor flowerpot. And there are other fun holidays dedicated to flowers as well!

  • March 28 – Weed Appreciation Day – Even weed flowers can help birds!
  • April 5 – National Dandelion Day – Great seeds in these flowers!
  • April 6 – California Poppy Day – Another great seed-bearing flower to celebrate!
  • May 30 – Water a Flower Day – Give flowers the care they need to thrive!
  • June 12 – Red Rose Day – Colorful flowers sure to attract colorful birds!
  • December 12 – National Poinsettia Day – Tropical flowers for tropical birds!

Enjoy beautiful, bird-friendly flowers on all these fun days, and every day in between – the birds will thank you!

Orange Cosmos - Photo by scott1346
Orange Cosmos – Photo by scott1346

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