California native plants are for the birds

Planting a variety of native plants will ensure local birds have food year-round.

Birds naturally feel at home in a yard filled with flowers, shrubs and trees that are native to the region. California native plants have adapted to the local conditions of our area over time, making them drought tolerant and low maintenance for homeowners. In addition, these plants provide a source of food and a safe habitat for birds and local wildlife.

“You definitely want sages,” says Trude Hurd, project director of education for Sea & Sage Audubon, the Orange County chapter of the National Audubon Society. The many varieties of salvias, which are in the sage family, are a magnet for hummingbirds.

Cedar waxwings love to feast on the bright red toyon berries that ripen in the fall.

“Don’t be quick to cut plants down at the end of summer; let them go to seed,” Hurd says. Leaving the seed heads on salvias at the end of the blooming cycle will provide food for seed-eating birds this winter, including the various species of finches and sparrows.

Start planning your garden now but wait for cooler temperatures to plant the natives. Once established, a variety of native plants will ensure local birds will have food year-round. For example, coffeeberry shrubs produce dark red berries in the spring and summer, making them attractive to the resident northern mockingbirds, American robins, California scrub jays and other fruit-eating birds that live in the area year-round. Toyon, also known as California holly, produces bright red berries in the fall and winter, making them irresistible to winter migrants such as cedar waxwings.

California scrub jays eat a varied diet that includes insects, seeds and berries.

And don’t be a neat freak when it comes to fallen leaves. “Leaf litter shades the soil and attracts insects,” Hurd says. Many types of birds, including towhees, sparrows, doves and wrens scratch around for food among the leaves. Let insect-eating birds such as black phoebes, bushtits, bluebirds and warblers take care of your garden pests, she says.

Sea & Sage Audubon offers a list of bird-friendly plants specific to Orange County on its website at For inspiration, visit the chapter’s pollinators’ garden, showcasing a variety of native plants, at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary at 5 Riparian View in Irvine.

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