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How to Create a Bird-Friendly Garden

from our friends at Sea & Sage Audubon Society
• Orange County Chapter •

You can help birds in your yard. Simply provide what birds need to survive: a source of clean water, natural food (especially insects and seeds), protective plant cover, and freedom from harm. Learn how to improve yard habitat and reduce threats to birds.

Plant Southern California native plants in your garden. Resident and migratory birds have relied on local plants for millennia so they are the best plants to select. Most are drought-tolerant and easy to grow, too! If you have room for a tall tree, plant an oak or sycamore which are bird magnets.

Make water available year-round. Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing. Choose a re-circulating fountain with shallow depths and/or a bird bath that is wide, shallow, and deepens a bit in the middle. Use rocks to adjust water levels. Birds will shelter in nearby shrubs and trees to dry their feathers.

Leave the leaves. Fallen leaves provide good foraging areas for birds plus they help smother weeds. Brush piles help provide habitat, too. Sparrows, towhees, doves, and wrens benefit from this practice.

Prune trees in fall and winter. Avoid spring and summer so you do not disturb nesting birds. Plan home projects around nesting birds by looking up incubation and fledgling times on

Prevent window collisions. Birds fly into windows when they see reflections of sky and bushes. To make windows look like a barrier to birds, use screens, close blinds (at night and when not home), or hang ribbons. Space multiple decals on glass or temporary designs at least 2-4 inches apart to be effective.

Keep cats indoors. Fledgling birds and lizards are especially vulnerable to injury from outdoor and feral cats. Please keep your cat indoors for its own health and that of wildlife. Build a protective “catio” (enclosed playpen) if you must let your cat outdoors.

Protect fledglings. Many young birds leave the nest before they can fully fly. They need space and cover for several days until they are competent fliers. Don’t “rescue” fledglings unless they are truly injured and need to go to an experienced bird rehabilitator. Call Audubon House at 949-261-7963 for how to contact nearest rehabilitator.

Eliminate use of poisons. Owls, hawks, dogs and cats can die by eating poisoned rats and mice. Use snap traps to humanely kill unwanted rodents.

Let birds eat bugs. Most backyard birds eat insects such as the caterpillars of moths and butterflies. Do not use poisons and pesticides. Instead, let insect-eating birds like bushtits, black phoebes, bluebirds, and warblers eat your garden pests.

Provide nesting niches. Plant your yard with multiple layers of plants (trees, shrubs, and ground thickets) to attract a variety of nesting birds. Twigs and fine material are used by many bird species from hummingbirds to crows to make a well-hidden cup nest. If there is a source of mud and insects, black phoebes and cliff swallows may make a mud nest on the side of houses. Wood-peckers and bluebirds may use wooden nest boxes. Consider leaving old trees (snags) as a cavity home for wildlife.

Keep feeders and water baths clean. Regular cleaning will prevent spread of disease-causing organisms.

We suggest these locally native plants that provide nectar, berries, seeds, and/or insects for resident and migratory birds.

• Bladderpod (Peritoma)
• Buckwheats (Eriogonum) such as California buckwheat, ashy-leaf buckwheat, and red buckwheat
• California fuchsia (Epilobium)
• California lilacs (Ceanothus) such as green-bark lilac, whitebark (whitethorn) lilac, and woollyleaf lilac
• Bush sunflowers (Encelia)
• Currants and gooseberries (Ribes)
• Live-forevers (Dudleya) such as lance-leaved live-forever, chalk live-forever, and Laguna Beach live-forever
• Elderberry (Sambucus)
• Hooker’s evening primrose (Oenothera)
• Island bush snapdragons (Gambelia)
• Lemonade berry (Rhus)
• Mallows (Malacothamnus and Sphaeralcea) such as San Clemente Island bush mallow, Fremont bush mallow, and apricot mallow
• Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos)
• Beardtongues (Penstemon and Keckiella) such as showy penstemon, foothill penstemon and scarlet bugler
• Sages (Salvia) such as black sage, hummingbird sage, and white sage • Toyon (Heteromeles)
• Yarrows (Achillea and Eriophyllum)

Use these resources to learn more about birds in your yard, how to protect them, and how to create a bird-friendly garden.

Sea and Sage Audubon Society. Join us for a nature walk and visit our 6,600 sq.ft. pollinators’ garden for humming-birds and bees at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine (entrance off Campus Drive). See website.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Online bird field guide and science-based articles about how to protect birds at

California Native Plant Society. Excellent native plant information for gardening at and Orange County chapter of CNPS at

Tree of Life Nursery. Local source of native plants, planting advice, and free Saturday morning workshops in San Juan Capistrano. Go to

Important: All North American native birds including their nests, eggs, feathers, and other parts are protected by federal law and cannot be harmed in any way (Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918.)

Sea and Sage Audubon Society
5 Riparian View, Irvine, CA 92612

Prepared by Trude Hurd, Project Director of Education, Sea and Sage Audubon, March 2018.

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