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Annuals and Perennials that Attract Birds

When we think of providing food for birds, flowers aren't usually the first things that come to mind. That's a shame, because there are many annuals and perennials that not only grace our gardens with beauty but feed the birds at the same time. Some produce nectar and some produce seeds, and some even attract butterflies, too. The ones listed below are popular in many areas because they are easy to grow and easy to care for.

The most important thing to remember about gardening for the birds, or birdscaping as it has come to be known, is that best results will be achieved by not using pesticides. Yes, you will have some insects, but many insects are beneficial, and they also feed the birds! Virtually all backyard birds eat insects, and many species eat only insects, so keep in mind that when we sterilize our gardens with pesticides we are removing a critical food source. In a sample study (New York City) of the 80,000 dead birds tested, over 48% died from common pesticide poisoning. Please keep this in mind as you plan your bird garden.



Snapdragons are popular with many butterfly species.


B = Butterfly   H = Hummingbird   I = Insects   S = Seeds   SS = Self-Sows



Amaranthus (S)

Aster (B, S)

Pentas (B, H)

Hyssop (B, H)

Bachelor's Buttons (B, S, SS )

Black-eyed Susans (B, S, SS)

Petunias (H

Ironweed (S)

Blanket Flower (B, H, S)


Blazing Stars (B,S)

Poppies (S)

Jack-in-the-pulpit (S)

Cleome (H, SS)

Butterfly Weed (B, H)

Sunflowers (B, S, SS)

Joe Pye Weed (B, S)

Cosmos (B, S, SS)

Cardinal Flower (H)

Salvia (H)

Liriopes (S)

Fuschia (H)

Catmint B, (SS)

Snapdragon (H)

Lupines (H, S)

Geranium (H)

Columbine (H, SS)

Tithonia (B, H, S)

Monarda (B, H, I, S)

Impatiens (H, S)

Coneflowers (B, S, SS)

Verbena (H, S)

Penstemon (H)

Lantana (B, H (berries, too!)

Coral Bells (H)

Zinnia (B, H)

Phlox (B, H, S)

Marigolds (B, H, I, S)

Coreopsis (B, I, S, SS)

Nasturtiums (B, H)

Scabiosa (B, S)

Nicotiana (H)

Daylillies (H)

Nigella (S, SS)

Sedum (B, I)


Delphinium (B, H)


Violets (S)


Goldenrod (B, I, S)


Yarrow (B,

Let the birds do the work

Don't forget the many annual and perennial wildflowers available, and remember that many weeds - yes, weeds - are beneficial to birds. You might want to do what others have done, and create a "wild area", and let the birds "plant" their own garden. Pick a spot that gets at least half a day's sun located near some form of cover, such as shrubbery. Till the soil to at least 3" and remove all the clumps of grass from the area. Install a few "Planting Lines", which are nothing more than pieces of rope or wire stretched between 2 posts or other supports. Install a bath, preferably with a dripper, to get the birds' attention, and wait to see what comes up! The author's habitat has a 10' by 25' area that is loaded with all the things birds love, like wild blackberries and raspberries, pokeweed, nightshade, coneflowers, sunflowers, evening primrose, virginia creeper and grasses that the birds have deposited there, complete with their own, high-nitrogen fertilizer! You can throw down some wildflower mix, if you like, or just leave it alone. You'll be amazed at what comes up.


 cone flower

Cone flowers are another favorite of butterflies.

Continue to relax

When fall rolls around, don't "tidy up" the garden! The seeds of the plants listed will provide food throughout the winter, and some are even preferred over the bird food you provide during the winter months. When the goldfinches return to my habitat  (in New York) after their young have fledged at the end of the summer, they ignore the Nyjer® feeders and devour the seed heads of the black-eyed susans first. The house finches and cardinals can't seem to get enough of the evening primroses, bending the stalks to the ground as they pry out every last morsel. And the virginia creeper the fall migrants beefed up on before heading south will still have some berries when the first migrants return in the spring.

By Carla Davis