I have been listening to and observing many birds as my garden has matured. In the morning, I love hearing the peaceful cooing sounds of mourning doves, the musical calls and whistles of robins, and the singing of the male cardinal who is busy establishing his territory as well as attracting and impressing a potential mate. Select plants that will attract birds and provide a water feature so they can drink, bathe, and preen. Magically, your garden becomes an oasis for birds.
Certain plants are bird magnets. The cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) has large leaves that collect dew and rainwater that small birds use for drinking and bathing. Then in autumn when the yellow daisy-like flowers turn to seed, the plants are covered with goldfinch. The seeds of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) offer vital food to over thirty species of birds. Its tall leaves provide protection, cover and great material for nest building. Popular perennials that provide abundant seed such as black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), New England aster (Symphotrichumnovae-angliae), and coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) will attract many feathered friends.
Annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) known for their beautiful large flowers have seeds that provide essential energy for migrating birds. One of the most gorgeous blue summer flowering annuals, the cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), attracts birds with its nectar, pollen and seeds. It also draws goldfinches, waxwings, bluebirds, phoebes, and towhees.
Plant shrubs such as the elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) which has purple berries in summer that will delight brown thrashers, red-eyed vireos and many more. Sumac (Rhus typhina) is a shrub that provides winter food and is beloved by robins, bluebirds, thrushes, pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, and chickadees. Interestingly, the sumac fruit does not become palatable until it has frozen and thawed several times.
Hummingbirds will surely appear if you select plants with red tubular flowers. Good choices are cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), red sage (Salvia coccinea), or beebalm (Monarda didyma). Although red seems to be their favorite color, hummingbirds are also attracted to orange, yellow, purple and blue flowers. I suggest you avoid double flowering plants since the nectar may be more difficult to find. Hummingbirds also need protein which they get from pollen and insects. Watch carefully and you might see a hummingbird as it catches a small insect in the air.
Keeping some dense thickets on the edges of your property will support birds by providing secluded perching sites and possible nesting spots. The choices we make in our gardens can have a positive impact on both our local and migrating birds.
One of the best sources of information on plants for birds is Audubon:
To listen to the various bird songs, calls, and sounds go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: