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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - April 05, 2011

From: Harlingen, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Bird-friendly plants for South Texas
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Which are the best plants that provide food (perennials, shrubs, trees, and vines) to attract birds to my backyard garden? (I have water and cover and would like to make sure I have the 10 best plants to add to attract birds, especially cardinal and oriole.) Thank you!

ANSWER:

You are fortunate to live in an area having such colorful and intresting birds. As you probably know, bird-watching is also big business in South Texas. Birders come from all around the world to see birds like the Altamira and Audubon Orioles, which occur only in the southern border areas of the United States. Mr. Smarty Plants was surprised to find so little published advice on how local residents can enhance their communities as birding hot spots.

Since you have two essentials, water and cover, let me concentrate on the food requirements. Orioles and Cardinals love most kinds of fruit.  Non-native fruit, such as figs and plums, will be welcomed by these birds.  The Altamira and Audubon Orioles love to forage in dense thickets. You might consider whether you should increase your cover with something like Forestiera pubescens (Stretchberry) (or elbowbush), which provides berries as well as cover.  A number of other bird friendly plants are listed among natives in the book A Field Guide to Common South Texas Shrubs, by R. B. Taylor, J. Rutledge, and J. G. Herrera.  This book may be available at your local library.

Among other listed natives in the book are the following: Mahonia trifoliolata (Agarita) (early spring berries), Rubus flagellaris (Northern dewberry) (spring berries), Morus microphylla (Littleleaf mulberry) (berries in spring), Ehretia anacua (Anacua) (summer food),  Cordia boissieri (Mexican olive) (Hummingbirds, late summer fruit), Schaefferia cuneifolia (Desert yaupon) (winter berries), Eysenhardtia texana (Texas kidneywood) (cover, attracts insects, seeds), Colubrina texensis (Hog-plum) (fall and winter fruit and seeds, cover), Ulmus crassifolia (Cedar elm) (fall seeds) and Celtis laevigata (Sugar hackberry).  A variety such as this would provide food and cover for many species of songbirds, including orioles and Cardinals, throughout the year.  Other native species suitable for South Texas are shown on a Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center web site. You can obtain many of these plants and also additional advice at one of the suppliers also listed on our web site.  The Rancho Lomitas Plant Nursery, in particular, has several of them in stock.

Good luck, and thanks for helping to preserve our colorful birds.

 

From the Image Gallery


Agarita
Mahonia trifoliolata

Elbow bush
Forestiera pubescens

Texas mulberry
Morus microphylla

Anacua
Ehretia anacua

Mexican olive
Cordia boissieri

Desert yaupon
Schaefferia cuneifolia

Texas kidneywood
Eysenhardtia texana

Hog-plum
Colubrina texensis

Cedar elm
Ulmus crassifolia

Sugar hackberry
Celtis laevigata

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