Last week, I saw a Mockingbird in my yard. I have seen these birds all the way up into Maine and New Hampshire. Why was it a surprise to see one in my yard? It didn’t stay around. Why?
There is no big mystery here. There is nothing in my yard that a Mockingbird would eat. Other than oaks and maples, I have no native plants that would supply food for birds during the winter.
If you and I are interested in preserving the insect and bird populations, we need to do something about the plants we have around our properties. Insects feed on plants, birds feed on insects. It takes 6,000 to 10,000 caterpillars to raise a family of Chickadees. Parent birds will find these caterpillars on native trees but will find nothing in most of the trees we plant for ornamentation.
Most people who feed birds during the winter think they are helping them to survive, but it is not true. Birds are quite capable of living through the cold season without human assistance. We feed birds for our pleasure, not for the survival of birds.
We have numerous non-native plants with berries that birds eat in the fall and winter, but these contain high amounts of sugar at a time when birds need the high-fat berries that native plants supply. My side yard has been taken over by bittersweet. I have seen birds eating berries off this vine but they are getting no nutrition; worse, they are spreading this invasive plant in their droppings.
When our summer visitors start coming back, they search for flowering trees and areas in which to place their nests. I would never have Catbirds if I didn’t let my side yard go “wild”. While I do feed Hummingbirds, I also make sure there are lots of nectar-producing flowers. We think “hummers” only eat nectar, but they also need insects for chick rearing.
They find those insects on native plants.
You can find the best native plants to buy and plant in your yard by checking out the National Audubon Society’s website at www.audubon.org/native-plants. When you put in your zip-code the site will list the best native plants for your area and your wildlife. There are also many nurseries, which you can also find online, that carry native plants; some of them sell only natives.
Even if you only plant some natives in pots, you will attract insects and birds to your yard.