Go Native to Attract Birds!

Los Angeles Audubon presents this page to explain what a native plant is, the intricate relationship between our California native plants and our native bird populations, the benefits of ‘going native’, and, importantly, how to go native to get more birds in your yard! ...

What is a Native Plant?

California has a wide and unique variety of plants that have evolved here over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Many of these plants occur no where else on the planet. These plants are assembled into “communities” and appear only in very specific areas on our landscape. For example, we have salt water wetland plants, coastal sage scrub plants, desert scrub plants, montane plants, etc. These plants have co-evolved with other life forms like microbes, insects and birds, creating a complex network of relationships which is our native California ecosystem.

Why Go Native?

California bird species have adapted to California native plants as food sources. Our birds eat the seeds, berries, and nectar that our plants produce. They also eat the pollinators these plants attract. This association has evolved, again, over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. Ornamental plants from Asia, Africa, Europe or Central or South America, like the commonly used azalea, agapantha, pansies, and kangaroo paws, are pretty, but offer little to our birds except shelter, as many do not attract insects or produce food sources that California birds know and need.

These food sources are most important during spring and fall migration when our population of birds expands by tens of millions of migrants searching for food, rest and water as they journey to breeding locations as far north as Alaska in Spring, and wintering sites as far as south as Central and South America in Fall. Summer is actually the quietest time, birdwise, in most of the Los Angeles area.

Further Benefits of Going Native

By planting natives, you are not only providing our birds with essential sources of food, but you are creating shelter and breeding and nesting habitat as well. In addition, you are helping sequester carbon and provide shade to reduce greenhouse gases and global warming!

What to Plant

To attract fruit/berry eating birds such as wintering Hermit Thrushes, American Robins, and Cedar Waxwings plant: 


Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Wikipedia Entry

blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana), Wikipedia Entry

Mahonia gooseberries & currant (Ribes spp.), Wikipedia Entry

Nevin's barberry (Berberis nevinii), Wikipedia Entry

southern honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata)

winterberry (Symphoricarpus mollis)  

To attract insect eating birds such as warblers, vireos, flycatchers, kinglets, and bushtits, plant:


western sycamore (Platanus racemosa), Wikipedia Entry

coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), Wikipedia Entry

lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia), Wikipedia Entry

California-lilac (native) (Ceanothus spp.), Wikipedia Entry

(native) willows (Salix sp.)

bush-mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatum)  

To attract nectar loving Hummingbirds plant:


California fuchsia  (Epilobium canum), Wikipedia Entry

Heart-leaved penstemmon (Keckiella cordifolia)

Manzanitas (native) (Arctostaphylos spp.), Wikipedia Entry

monkey flower  (Mimulus spp.), Wikipedia Entry

black sage (Salvia mellifer), Wikipedia Entry

Purple Sage S. (leucophylla), Wikipedia Entry

white sage S. (apiana), Wikipedia Entry 

To attract seed lovers such as finches, goldfinches, and sparrows plant:


buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.), Wikipedia Entry

fescue grasses, Wikipedia Entry

bunch grasses (Nassella spp)

sages: See sages above 

Many of these plants, especially buckwheats, will attract many species of California butterfly to your garden. If you plant milkweed, butterflies may breed in your garden!

If you add a running water feature, you’ll attract even more birds. Make sure you plant shrubs and trees around the water so that birds can descend slowly to the water and watch for predators. Remove cats from your yard as they are the fiercest of all bird predators.

So, Kill Your Lawn and Get in Those Natives!

Los Angeles Audubon recommends that you consider killing your lawn and planting California native plants to help the birds in our area. 

Lawns have a negative impact on the environment. They consume enormous amounts of water in our dry, Mediterranean climate. They need fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals that run off into our rivers and oceans. They provide no food or shelter for wildlife except for Eurasian sowbugs and American crows. According to the U.S. EPA, a lawnmower emits as many greenhouse gases and pollution in one hour as a car does driving 350 miles. End the tyranny of the lawn! Go native and help our wildlife! 

If you must have a lawn there are native lawn substitutes:


Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides), Wikipedia Entry

Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis), Wikipedia Entry

California Meadow Sedge (Carex pansa)

Better yet, create a meadow and combine: 

California Field Sedge (Carex praegricillis)

Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), Wikipedia Entry

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), Wikipedia Entry

Yellow-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium californicum), Wikipedia Entry

Western Fescue (Festuca californica), Wikipedia Entry


To find out more about the California native plants and others that will attract birds visit these resources online: 

Las Pilitas Nursery         www.laspilitas.com

Tree of Life Nursery        www.treeoflifenursery.com

Theodore Payne Nursery  www.TheodorePayne.org

Audubon California         www.audubon-ca.org

California Native Plant Society  www.cnps.org 

You might also want to check Los Angeles County’s guide:  LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF REGIONAL PLANNING DROUGHT-TOLERANT PERENNIAL PLANTS NATIVE TO LOS ANGELES COUNTY & SURROUNDING AREAS  http://planning.lacounty.gov/doc/green/PlantMasterList.pdf  

These resources will provide information on the water and sun/shade requirements of plants so you can select the plants appropriate to the conditions in your yard.