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“Birdscaping” 101: Choose Prairie Plants that Can Attract Favorite Birds Year-Round

Greg DuBois takes a break from bird watching in the South Patrol Road Prairie at the USDA Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. DuBois said that native prairie plants in your yard can provide essential habitat for a variety of birds and insects, while creating a colorful and dynamic personal space. Photo courtesy of Greg DuBois

Looking for things to do at home? Plant a prairie in your yard to attract birds. Some plants can even sustain birds throughout the winter season and provide a resting spot for other birds as they migrate through the area. At the USDA Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, volunteers and staff are working with over 275 species of native Illinois prairie plants, and the great variety of prairie plants is one reason Midewin is a popular bird-watching destination.

Greg DuBois is Vice President and Program Director of the Will County Audubon Chapter. DuBois contributes his personal time to lead bird-watching excursions at Midewin, and he has ideas for gardeners who want to “birdscape” their yard this season. From echinacea to common milkweed; from New England aster, prairie dropseed and more, there is an array of prairie plants that can create a fascinating personal space that also adds value and purpose.

“The average home gardener can make a small but very important contribution to supporting habitat – food and breeding space – for threatened native birds and insects,” DuBois said. “Why should we worry about bugs? Bugs are as essential in pollinating prairie plants as hummingbirds and bees are, and they are a vital food source for birds.”

DuBois provides some of his “field notes” here in this list of his “Top 10” picks of prairie plants for home gardeners hoping to “birdscape” their yard this year:

Birdscaping 101
Plant Sun and Soil Bloom Times Birds Field Notes
Black-Eyed-Susan

 

Full to partial sun, medium-wet to medium dry soils June –

October

American Goldfinch, House Finch, House Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Biennial but re-seeds in its second year;  provides insect food and seeds for birds
Common Boneset

 

Full to partial sun, wet to medium-wet soils July –

September

House Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Baltimore Oriole, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo Attracts a wide variety of pollinators
Common Milkweed

 

Full to partial sun, medium-wet to dry soils June – August

(fragrant blooms)

House Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Baltimore Oriole, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo Vital host plant for monarch butterflies; provides nectar for other insects whose larvae offer food for birds
Eastern Purple-Coneflower

(“Echinacea”)

Full to partial sun, medium- wet to medium- dry July –

September

American Goldfinch, House Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow Provides insect food and seeds for birds
New England American-Aster Full to partial sun, wet to medium-dry soils August – October House Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo Very popular with bees and butterflies whose larvae offer food for birds
Prairie Dropseed

 

Full Sun, Dry sandy soils August American Goldfinch, House Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow Grows in clumps; very fragrant
Rough Blazing Star

 

Full to partial sun, wet to medium soils July –

September

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Baltimore Oriole, House Wren, Red-eyed Vireo Very popular with bees and butterflies whose larvae offer food for birds; hummingbirds attracted for nectar
Side-Oats Grama

 

Full to partial sun, dry to moist well-drained soils July – August American Goldfinch, House Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow Provides food, nesting material and cover for birds
Showy Goldenrod

 

Full to partial sun, medium to dry soils September –

November

American Goldfinch, House Finch, Goldenrod does not contribute to fall allergies
Wild Bergamot

 

Full to partial sun, medium-wet to dry soils July – September (fragrant blooms) Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Baltimore Oriole, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo Very popular with bees and butterflies (larvae offers food for birds); hummingbirds attracted for nectar

SIDEBAR 1: Here are some Midewin NTP tours and activities to look forward to in June. There will be guided grassland bird excursions every Saturday in June.

Experience America’s National Tallgrass Prairie; find out why Midewin has been called: “A haven for bird-watchers!” On these guided bird excursions, you might see loggerhead shrikes, Henslow’s sparrows, bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, blue grosbeaks, orioles, warblers, vireos and more!

Bird Hikes: Saturday, June 13 and Saturday, June 27, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Bird Tram-Auto Tours: Saturday, June 6 and Saturday June 20, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

SIDEBAR 2: Online Birdscaping Resources  The National Audubon Society provides information about native plants to consider for birdscaping in our area here: https://www.audubon.org/native-plants.

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