Birds must bring back hundreds of caterpillars to their nestlings every day. The larval hosts for most of these caterpillars are trees. Oak trees support hundreds of different species of moths and butterflies, as do several other species. Blueberry bushes are also great in that regard. Goldenrods and asters are the most valuable of the perennials and also provide seeds to adults. Some other native perennials produce large numbers of caterpillars as well, where others produce very few. For a listing, see Douglas Tallamy’s website.

**Berries that are safe to eat
Nandina berries are toxic to Cedar Waxwings.

Nutritious food for adults - let your garden feed the birds all year

Birds need to eat all the time, so try to provide different plants to cover

the whole year.

Songbirds have been declining in Northern Virginia. Together we can turn this around!

What do songbirds need from the plants in your yard?

Gardening for Songbirds

Food for baby birds - plants that produce caterpillars


  • Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)


  • Highbush blueberry  (Vaccinium corymbosum)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier species)
  • Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)


  • Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum)
  • Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
  • Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
  • Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa)
  • Sweet-bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)


  • Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)
  • Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum)
  • Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)
  • Possumhaw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum)
  • Southern Bayberry (Morella cerifera)


  • Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) (spring fruit)

Food for nestlings

  • Thousands of caterpillars for each clutch of nestlings
  • Plants that “grow” caterpillars - meaning native plants, especially trees. Most caterpillars cannot digest the leaves of non-native plants.

Turf grass is from Europe and does nothing to support the ecosystem.

Seeds and Nuts
Oaks (Quercus species)
Hickory (Carya species)
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)
Pines (Pinus species)
Maples (Acer species)
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
River Birch (Betula nigra)
Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)

Nesting spots

  • Plants of varying heights: canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials
  • Hollow trees

Have you been removing trees as they die? Dead trees provide essential services to birds. Consider leaving the bottom 15-20 feet in place.

*Nutritious berries
The berries of some introduced species are too low in fat content and too high in sugar.


  • Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) (late summer berries)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) (fall berries)
  • Purple Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata) (fall fruits)

Clean water

  • Chemical-free landscaping keeps our waterways clean.

Native plants require no fertilizers or pesticides.


  • Protection from predators
  • Protection from winter storms

Thickets and hedges are ideal for many birds.

A brush pile can provide similar services.

Food for adults

  • A variety of seeds, nuts, and berries (see below)
  • Berries with a high nutrition content *
  • Berries that are safe to eat **

In other words - native plants!

Oxeye sunflower (Helianthus helianthoides)
Asters (Symphyotrichum species)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Goldenrod (Solidago species)
Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Berries and fruits


  • American Plum (Prunus americana)
  • Cockspur Hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli)
  • Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)


  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
  • Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)


  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
  • American Holly (Ilex opaca)
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)