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People, Places & Parks Thought Leadership

Native Plants are Good for Birds and People, too

Cedar Waxwing on winterberry (Ilex-verticillata), by David Sloas, Audubon Photography Awards.

By Jared Teutsch, Executive Director

Birdwatching exploded in popularity during the pandemic as people began noticing the birds around their homes and in nearby parks and greenspaces. Suddenly, birdwatching is cool! Along with the uptick in birdwatching came an interest in creating bird-friendly landscapes at home and in our local parks and greenspaces. The most effective way to improve landscapes for birds is to remove exotic, invasive species and replace them with native plants. Birds and native plants go together thanks to millions of years of coevolution. Native plants produce fruits and flowers on which birds feed, and, in return, birds spread the plant’s seeds and pollen far and wide, supporting an entire ecosystem. It’s a win-win.

A recently released study published in the journal Science revealed that nearly three billion birds —or one in four birds— have disappeared from our landscape in the past 50 years. Habitat loss and degradation are two of the leading causes for this decline. Nowhere is this more evident than in metro Atlanta. Not only are we losing habitat at an alarming rate, but the habitat that we still have is being degraded rapidly, losing the ability to support the full life cycle of many bird species. The decline of even common species, including our state bird, the Brown Thrasher, indicates a general shift in our ecosystems’ ability to support basic birdlife.

Native plants are also important hosts for protein-rich native insects, like caterpillars, which nesting birds need to feed their growing chicks. More than 96 percent of land birds feed insects and spiders to their chicks. In fact, a single nest of Carolina Chickadee babies will need as many as 9,000 caterpillars in order to fledge. Native tree species are better for birds because they host many more caterpillars. For example, a native oak supports more than 550 kinds of butterflies and moths, whereas a non-native Ginkgo tree supports only five. That’s a big difference, and a great reason to only plant native trees in our greenspaces.

In addition, the fruit of many native plants ripens at the same time migratory birds are passing through, providing a high-fat, nutritional food source to help birds complete their migratory journeys. Learning to identify and taking steps to remove the most common non-native invasive plants, like English ivy and Chinese privet, and replacing these with native plants is an affordable and attractive way to invite bird life and other wildlife into your landscape.

Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. Recognizing the inherent connection between native plants and birds, Georgia Audubon has been restoring bird-friendly habitat across the metro area and beyond at places like Emma Wetlands of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, Little Creek Horse Farm, Zonolite Park, Piedmont Park, Historic Washington Park, Panola Mountain State Park, and Deepdene, part of Olmsted Linear Park. By partnering with friends groups and other volunteer organizations, we’ve removed many acres of privet, English ivy, kudzu, and other invasive plants and replaced them with native plants that provide food and habitat for resident and migratory birds. In addition, our Wildlife Sanctuary Program is certifying residential properties and greenspaces across the metro area and beyond to create a network of habitat on which birds and pollinators can rely. You can learn more about these efforts, as well as our native plant sales, workshops, and more, on our website at www.georgiaaudubon.org

Incorporating bird-friendly native plants at home and in our parks and greenspaces is critical to building healthy, resilient, bird-friendly ecosystems and will help #BringBirdsBack.


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