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Gardening for songbirds

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

What do songbirds need from the plants in your yard?

Food for adults

  • A variety of seeds, nuts, and berries (see below)

  • Berries with a high nutrition content *

  • A variety of species to provide berries that become soft enough to eat at different times in the winter

  • Berries that are safe to eat **

In other words—native plants!


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.

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.


  • Protection from predators

  • Protection from winter storms

Thickets and hedges are ideal for many birds. See plant suggestions here. 

A brush pile can provide similar services.

Clean water

  • Chemical-free landscaping keeps our waterways clean.

Native plants require no fertilizers or pesticides

* Nutritious berries: The "spread" of native trees and shrubs provide berries with various proportions of fats, protein, and antioxidants that match the nutritional requirements of birds in the Americas


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

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Breeding birds rely on native plants

New Smithsonian Study links declines in suburban backyard birds to presence of non-native plants

Food for baby birds: plants that produce caterpillars

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. 

The minimum biomass of native plants in a neighborhood needed to support chickadee reproduction has been shown to be 70%. However, 70% is nowhere near as good as 90% for benefiting wildlife. 

Common grackle

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

Birds need to eat all the time—try to provide different plants to cover the whole year. Consult our Bloomtime Chart for help planning a garden that provides nutrition for birds year round! See this reference for details on nutrition content of various berries.

Berries and fruits





  • American Plum (Prunus americana)

  • Cockspur Hawthorn (Crataegus crusgalli)

  • Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)



  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

  • Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

  • Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)

  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

  • Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)



  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

  • American Holly (Ilex opaca)

  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)



  • Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) (late summer berries)

  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) (fall berries)

  • Purple Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata) (fall fruits)


  • Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

  • Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) (spring fruit)




  • Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)



  • Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier species)

  • Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)



  • Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum)

  • Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

  • Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa)

  • Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

  • Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

  • Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

  • 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)

  • Northern Bayberry (Morella pennsylvanica)

  • Southern Bayberry (Morella cerifera)

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)



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)

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