Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Why We Need Plants for Birds

Cedar Waxwing Dining on Serviceberries
Credit: Jim Macaluso

Ok, so I know that March is just a week away and we are all beginning to think spring, perhaps maybe a little premature. We most likely are still in for some freezing temperatures and maybe even a few more snow days. But I am definitely sure that it is not too early for us to be thinking about the most significant part of a bird’s habitat, and for that matter any wildlife: the native plants.

Native plants are the foundation of any vital and  healthy wildlife habitat. Our native plants provide  the seeds, fruit, nuts, and even the insects that our birds need to live, survive and thrive through the winter and into migration. And especially through the most critical time, nesting season. This is when the plants  will  also provide the high protein and high fat that birds feed their young, more specifically the insect life that is produced from native plants .

The wonderful thing about native plants is that as soon as you add a few to your back yard, schoolyard or even your place of business, you have made the environment a much better place for our birds. It’s like turning on a light in a dark room.

All of a sudden life you never thought would visit your backyard will appear almost like magic, attracted to the plants that they have evolved with for thousands of years. Birds recognize our native plants. Why? Because they get the fruit, nuts , seeds and nectar exactly when the birds need them. This is no accident.

Unfortunately most of our perfectly landscaped yards are full of non- native plants  which lack the correct food that our birds need to survive. Even worse, the non-native invasive plants choke out the natives not only in your backyard but in our nature preserves, adding to the many stresses that our migratory birds are already under.

Although your backyard or even your local nature center may look lush and beautiful to the human eye, if it is full of non-native invasive plants it is really not a habitat at all, just a wasteland . It would be like you walking into a supermarket and realizing all the food was plastic. It is exactly like that if a bird lands in your yard with no native plants. You can go to another supermarket but our birds may be so weak and tired by that time they may not make it to the next healthy habitat.

The good news is that we can do something about this. We won’t need to write letters or call our elected officials. We can introduce native plants everywhere and anywhere we can and make our community a better place for our birds, and our butterflies too.

Since this is the “Year of the Bird” my weekly column all this month will be devoted to how we can help our birds with native plants, from the Hummingbird to the Wood Thrush. We can all do our part to help our birds when they need it more than ever.

If you have a favorite native plant let me know what it is and how it helps your birds . You can send me an email at

For more info on native plants for birds go to

And for more info on the Year of the Bird go to

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