As I was growing up, my mom instilled in me a deep love of bird watching. I remember she always became so excited when a new species or a rare bird would come to the yard; she ran to the bookshelf to grab her copy of Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds to try and identify the newest visitor. I also remember her complaining every time the price of bird seed went up.
As I began to establish my first home I decided to try and attract as many birds to my yard as possible, just so I could stay in closer touch with my mother. Unfortunately, I quickly realized I could not afford to keep buying bird seed to maintain a steady population, so I put my plans of attracting birds to the yard on hold.
A few years later at a friend’s house I noticed they had more birds in their yard than I had seen since I was a child. I commented, “You must spend a fortune in bird seed!” but they told me that they actually never spread seed. They were surprised when I told them about some of the rare birds they seemed to have in abundance. Plant enthusiasts themselves, they had no idea the impact they were having on local bird populations.
The trick, it seemed, was native plants; over the last decade they had planted their entire yard in natives. I knew at once how I could begin to attract birds to my yard and I decided from then on that any new plants I added would be natives.
When I got home I looked around my house and realized that the only native plants in my landscape were the very old white oaks that shade most of my yard; everything else was invasive or at least not native. I started to add natives very slowly and decided not to remove any of the exotic plants until I had filled the space I had available. My first addition was an American beautyberry. I loved the berries and the pink flowers and when I learned that they could grow in almost any condition I was sold. Since then I have added highbush blueberries, a sweet pepperbush, an American wisteria, a sweetbay magnolia, and a downy arrowwood.
With just a few natives mixed into the landscape, I began to notice an increase in the number and variety of birds in my yard. I have also observed that the natives I planted have become my favorite and showiest plants on my property, and the ones I take the most pride in. Now when I sit at my kitchen window, I always have an entertaining backyard to watch and a way to feel connected with both my mother and my childhood. I now have that same excitement of running to the bookshelf trying to identify my newest visitors before they fly away.
Ryan Davis is the manager at Cure Nursery.