Best Plants to Attract Birds to Your Yard 

Bird flying head on towards the camera

So, you want to invite your avian friends to your birdhouse for dinner, but what should you serve? We’ve got a list of the best plants to attract birds to your yard in winter, spring, summer, and fall. Install one or more of these plants to have a rotating flock of guests in your backyard all year long.

Native plants attract birds best

The bad news: Nearly 3 billion adult birds have disappeared from the mainland U.S. and Canada since 1970. 

The good news: You can help reverse this trend by installing native plants in your landscape.

How can native plants help restore local bird populations? By restoring habitat. When you install native plants, you help revive insect populations (which 97% of land birds rely on) and provide desirable habitat space, nesting areas, berries, and seeds for local birds to enjoy. 

Non-native plants are generally less desirable for local bird species and don’t offer the support they need to live. By installing native plants you help to restore what has been lost and provide the necessary elements of life for these creatures. 

Here are eight of the best plants to attract birds to your yard. We’ve included the native range for each and tried to note what alternatives to consider if you live outside of that region.

1. Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

Flowering dogwood is no stranger to birds, beasts, or humans in most of the Eastern U.S. and into the mid-South. Well known and loved for its early spring display of stunning pink or white bracts (known simply as “flowers” to non-horticulturalists), this smaller-sized tree is often found in the understory alongside other hardwood species. 

It’s a good choice for homeowners who want a smaller tree with showy spring blooms and interesting square-shaped bark (once it matures). Birds find it attractive mainly for its bright red fruit — a tasty fall and winter delicacy that squirrels, wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and other mammals also relish.

If you live on the West Coast, consider the Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii).

Which birds will flowering dogwood attract? American robin, brown thrasher, cedar waxwing, flicker, mockingbird, northern cardinal, summer tanager, woodpecker, and others. (Over 28 species of birds prize flowering dogwood’s fall fruits.)

  • Plant type: Small tree
  • Mature size: 15-25 feet tall; 15-30 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Deciduous (loses leaves in fall); pink or white bracts (usually called flowers) in spring; red/purple fall leaf color
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil: Good drainage; tolerates moist soils or periodically dry soils; neutral or acidic pH
  • Water needs: Established trees may require summer water. Apply mulch to help roots stay moist and cooler in summer temps. (Be sure not to make a mulch volcano, though!)
  • Hardiness zone: 5-9

More information about flowering dogwood trees: 

2. Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

If you want three-season color and variety from a single plant, mapleleaf viburnum may be the perfect addition to your bird-friendly landscape. This understory shrub puts out dainty white flowers in spring and bluish-black berries in fall, which are a favorite of local birds. In addition to the noir-colored drupes (commonly called berries or fruits), mapleleaf viburnum leaves turn a stunning red and purple color in the fall.

Viburnum acerifolium is native along the East Coast and into the mid-South. If you live in the midwestern or eastern portion of the Mountain West, try viburnum lentago. Viburnum rafinesqueanum is another option but its native range doesn’t extend as far west as viburnum lentago.

Plan to have more than one viburnum in your yard. Mapleleaf viburnum needs another plant (not a clone) for cross-pollination to set good fruit.

Which birds will mapleleaf viburnum attract? American robin, cedar waxwing, summer tanager, wood thrush, and other songbirds. Birds also take shelter and build nests in its branches.

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Mature size: 4-6 feet. tall; 2-6 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Deciduous (loses leaves in fall); red/purple in fall with bluish-black drupes (commonly called fruits)
  • Sun: Partial or dappled sun (is an ideal understory shrub)
  • Soil: Good drainage; tolerates moist soils or periodically dry soils; prefers acidic soil
  • Water needs: Prefers moist soil
  • Hardiness zone: 4-8

More information about mapleleaf viburnum: 

USDA Fact Sheet, NCSU

3. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Native plant enthusiasts throughout the mid-South, Midwest, and East Coast love to plant purple coneflower. This plant is the ultimate in easy-to-grow spring and summer beauty. It requires no water once established, tolerates a variety of soils, reseeds on its own, and is a favorite of goldfinches and other seed-loving birds. 

Deadhead a few of these flowers if you wish, but leave most on the stem after they fade for seed production. You’ll need to divide these prolific perennials every four years or so to keep them healthy and to prevent them from spreading too much.

Which birds will purple coneflower attract? American goldfinches, northern cardinals, blue jays, and other seed-eating types of birds enjoy the mature seeds in the fall. In spring and summer, hummingbirds drink the nectar and pollinators provide a food source for insectivorous birds.

  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Mature size: 3-4 feet tall; 1-2 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Green leaves and light purple to pink flowers
  • Sun: Full or partial sun
  • Soil: pH of 6-8 (neutral); Prefers loamy, moist soils but generally tolerates clay and other soil types. Needs good drainage.
  • Water needs: Tolerates drought once established
  • Hardiness zone: 3-8

More information about purple coneflower:

NCSU,, USDA Fact Sheet

4. Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)

Like flowering dogwood, serviceberry trees adorn themselves with snowy white flowers before they put on their green spring leaves, making a dramatic early spring statement in your garden. In the fall, expect another grand show, this time with bright leaf colors that range from red to orange and yellow. 

Small green fruits follow the short-lived display of flowers, which may last as little as one week in some areas. These small fruits ripen to red then to a dark purple or black and don’t depend on pollinators to set fruit. Local birds and mammals love these tasty berries, while nectar-gathering insects feast on the early spring nectar.

Which birds will serviceberry attract? American goldfinch, American robins, blue jays, brown thrashers, cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, northern cardinals, Carolina chickadees, tanagers, tufted titmice, vireos

  • Plant type: Shrub or small tree
  • Mature size: Depends on species — from 3 to over 40 feet tall; can grow over 10 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Green leaves during the growing season; brilliant fall colors
  • Sun: Full sun or part shade
  • Soil: Fertile, good drainage, moist
  • Water needs: Some species prefer moist soil
  • Hardiness zone: 3-9, depending on the species, although “Altaglow” will survive in climates down to zone 1

More information about serviceberry species:

University of Wisconsin, NCSU,

5. Native grasses

Amongst your search for native trees, shrubs, and flowering perennials, don’t forget the native grasses. Native grasses are low-maintenance and provide food (seeds), nesting, and shelter for some local birds. They also provide seasonal color, prevent erosion, and some serve as host plants for caterpillars (yum!). 

Check your state’s native plant list or Audubon’s Native Plants Database for native grass species local to your area. Here are a few that are native to different areas across the U.S.:

  • Switchgrass (Panicum spp.)
  • Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia spp.)
  • Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)
  • Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Which birds will native grasses attract? Quail, sparrow, game birds, and dozens more depending on the grass and your area. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, more than 30 bird species use switchgrass for food and shelter, so there is a wide range of birds that use native grasses.

More information about native grasses:

6. Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)

Sunflowers are beloved and instantly recognizable. Some varieties are taller than you or me while others grow close to the ground. With more than 150 varieties to choose from, there is sure to be a native sunflower species suited to where you live.

Have you ever thought of a plant as a bird feeder? If not, sunflowers are a perfect example. Birds love the seeds as a fall and winter snack. So, skip the nails and the wood; plant a sunflower and leave it standing in the fall and winter months instead. 

Which birds will sunflowers attract? Finches, grosbeaks, goldfinches, jays, Northern cardinals

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Mature size: Varies widely by species: from 1 foot to about 10 feet
  • Duration: Annual
  • Foliage: Green leaves with widely ranging petals, from yellow to orange, red, variegated, and white
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade; prefers full sun
  • Soil: Accepts poor draining soils but prefers good drainage
  • Water needs: Prefers moist soil
  • Hardiness zone: 6-9

More information about sunflowers: 


7. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Before you skip to the next plant, coral honeysuckle, also called trumpet honeysuckle, is not the invasive species you may have encountered. It is native to the East Coast and into the mid-South and Midwest. Hummingbirds love its trumpet-shaped, red flowers, and songbirds feast on the red berries in late summer. Coral honeysuckle puts on flowers in mid-spring and can be used as a ground cover or as a climbing vine.

If you’re on the West Coast, try Lonicera ciliosa, commonly called orange honeysuckle. As its name suggests, its flowers will add a delicious orange hue to your native, West Coast landscape. Like its coral cousin, it is a favorite of hummingbirds.

Which birds will coral honeysuckle attract? American robin, Baltimore orioles, brown thrasher, gray catbird, hermit thrush, hummingbird, purple finch, ruby-throated hummingbird

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Mature size: 10-20 feet tall; 3-6 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen or late to lose leaves in the South; deciduous in colder climates
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade; flowers best in full sun
  • Soil: Acidic to neutral pH; prefers lots of organic matter; tolerates clay or loamy soils
  • Water needs: Does best in moderately moist soils
  • Hardiness zone: 4-9

More information about coral honeysuckle:

NCSU, Georgia Audubon brochure

8. American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

If birds and local wildlife could choose a favorite summer berry, it might be the American elderberry. American elderberry is a wildlife favorite, feeding 50 or more species of small mammals, game birds, and songbirds with its delicious, dark summer and fall fruits. The foliage also provides perfect nesting areas for some birds.

If you’re looking for early spring flowers, this won’t fit the bill. American elderberry’s diminutive white flowers come in late spring or summer and are followed by a dark, black-purple drupe (fruit). This shrub is an effective plant for erosion control or in a rain garden.

American elderberry is found in 43 of the lower 48 states

Which birds will American elderberry attract? American robin, brown thrasher, Eastern towhee, gray catbird, mockingbird, oriole, red-eyed vireo, tanager, warbler, waxwing, wood thrush

  • Plant type: Shrub or small tree
  • Mature size: 9-12 feet tall; 6-10 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Deciduous; leaves are green but may become a golden color in fall
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil: Acidic to neutral pH; wide variety of soils; prefers fertile, moist soil
  • Water needs: Prefers moist soils
  • Hardiness zone: 4-9

More information about American elderberry:

NCSU, USDA Fact Sheet, Georgia Audubon brochure,

FAQ about best plants to attract birds to your yard

1. Where can I find bird-friendly plants for my state?

Here are two good places to start:

Your state’s ornithological society or Audubon webpage. These websites will usually have a “Native Plants for Birds” list that is specific to your state.
The Native Plants Database on Type in your ZIP code to pull up a list of bird-friendly plants that are native to your area.

2. How do I get started with birding?

Rise and shine
— Birds are most active in the morning, so prep your coffee pot the night before and set your alarm. To catch the best views, greet the dawn and catch local birds that are out for an early breakfast.

  • Grab a guide
  • –There’s no substitute for a local field guide. Apps and other resources are great, too, so bring your phone (but put it on silent before you venture out).

  • Don’t forget your “bins”
  • –Binoculars, that is. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but try them out in-store before you make a purchase. 

  • Go with a group
  • –The more the merrier. Take a trip with your local bird association and learn from the members’ years of knowledge and experience. You’ll have more fun with others and probably learn more, too.

  • Mind your manners
  • –Whether you flock together with other birders or watch from your own backyard, there are ethical and etiquette guidelines to follow. Most of these are very common sense and look something like this:

    Honor the bird’s environment (You’re there as an observer. Don’t be overzealous and disturb the habitat around you.)
    Honor your fellow birders (Be a good neighbor to those around you. Practice common courtesy, move unobtrusively, and share your knowledge with others.)
    Photograph responsibly (Keep your distance, don’t use a flash at night, and avoid drones.)
    For more information on birding and photography ethics, check out these resources:

    American Birding Association’s “Code of Birding Ethics

    National Audubon Society’s “Guide to Ethical Bird Photography and Videography

    3. How do I identify a bird in my backyard?

    Today, there are more resources than ever for backyard bird enthusiasts. 

  • Yes, there’s an app for that. 

  • –Actually, there are several. Go to your favorite app store and download the app that appeals to you. The Audubon Bird Guide app is a free resource from a leading conservation organization and may be a good place to start.

  • Don’t forget about local bird guides.
  • –State-specific bird guides are perfect for new bird enthusiasts. They include a wealth of information and photos to help you ID birds you see every day.

  • State and local ornithological societies
  • –No one wants to watch birds from your window all the time. Get involved with local or state organizations. They’ll host field trips, webinars, and countless other conservation and educational opportunities in your area.

    4. How do I keep cats from killing birds in my yard?

    So, you’ve noticed a few cats roaming your neighborhood. Will this affect your efforts to attract birds to your yard? There’s a good chance the answer is “yes.”

    Did you know that of all the human-related causes of bird mortality (collisions with buildings, cars, windows, cats, and wind turbines), cats have the most significant impact? Cats cause an average of 2.4 billion bird deaths each year.  

    Here are a few ideas to keep the cats in your yard from adding to this statistic:
    Contact your local humane society and ask what the laws and regulations are in your area. If the roaming cats are a nuisance in your yard, you may be able to trap them and have a local humane shelter take it from there. 
    If you have cats of your own, consider the many reasons why it’s best to keep cats indoors or in an outdoor enclosure (AKA catio):
    Protect your cat from diseases transmitted by other cats
    Protect you and your family. Roaming cats can pick up diseases that can transfer to and affect humans as well.

    Here are a few outdoor solutions to keep cats and birds safe: 
    Catios (enclosed “cat patios”)
    Cat-friendly fence conversions (keep your cat inside your yard)
    Cat harnesses and backpacks (for cats on the go)
    Collars and bibs that protect birds and wildlife

    For more catio, fencing, and bird-protection ideas, check out the many “Solutions for Pet Cats” from the American Bird Conservancy and “Keeping Birds Safe from Outdoor Cats” by the National Wildlife Federation.

    5. Are straight species natives better for birds?

    In general, straight species native plants are a safer bet for birds. Cultivars of native plants sometimes have double blooms or are so altered in structure that pollinators and birds cannot benefit from them. Straight species native plants have lived in the area with local wildlife and bird species for centuries and are usually most beneficial for them.

    If you’re too busy birding to notice the condition of your lawn, use our set-it-and-forget-it lawn care service. Like birds, our local lawn care pros migrate to your lawn on a regular schedule. It’s a sure way to keep your lawn mowed, edged, and looking great all season long.

    Main Photo Credit: Renee Grayson | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

    Sarah Bahr

    Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.