Gardening for birds – some local models April 23, 2017

Posted by GGAS in Conservation, How To...

By Kathy Kramer

In a charming New York Times article several years ago called The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening, Douglas Tellamy wrote, “Chances are, you have never thought of your garden… as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.

“What will it take to give our local animals what they need to survive and reproduce on our properties? NATIVE PLANTS, and lots of them.”

In fact, a pair of chickadees needs 350 to 570 caterpillars every day for sixteen days to raise a family, according to Tellemy! And it’s native plants that provide this kind of food source, while most non-natives do not.

The large, iridescent blueback pipevine swallowtail butterfly lays eggs on Dutchman’s pipeline — the only host plant for the caterpillars of this native butterfly —in Glen Schneider’s Berkeley garden. Photo by Glen Schneider.

Here in the Bay Area, we have an outstanding resource for people who want to create bird-friendly gardens — the annual Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour.

Coming up on Sunday, May 7th, the tour will showcase how East Bay gardeners have attracted birds to their yards. This award-winning, self-guided tour features 40 beautiful Alameda and Contra Costa County gardens that are pesticide-free and water-conserving, provide habitat for wildlife, and contain 60 percent or more native plants.

Below are descriptions of some of the gardens that have been particularly successful at attracting birds, along with a tip from each host for attracting our winged friends.


Glen Schneider’s garden, Berkeley

Glen Schneider converted a former driveway to a berry and vegetable garden, providing food for his family. The local native plants have attracted forty-six species of birds, twelve species of butterflies, and more than two hundred types of insects and spiders. Photo by Kathy Kramer.

Tip: Garden with local native plants.

Berries, seeds, nuts, nectar, pollen, nesting areas, and shelter are amply provided, and there is no deadheading in this wildlife- and insect-friendly local native plant garden. More than 90 species of local native plants have attracted 46 species of birds, 12 species of butterflies, and over 200 species of insects and spiders to the garden.

Garden Talk at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.: How to create a wildlife habitat garden using local native plants, by Glen Schneider


Merle Norman and Curtis Beech’s garden, Richmond

The blossoms of the checkerbloom attract painted lady butterflies and skippers to Merle Norman’s garden. In the background are the red flowers of the fuchsia flowering gooseberry, which attracts hummingbirds and other birds, tailed copper and zephyr angelwing butterflies, bees, and other insects. Photo by Merle Norman.

Tip: Have some plants in bloom most of the year.

A bird bath (protected from cats by a large sill), feeders, nesting boxes, brushpiles and snags, in addition to the seeds, berries, and the pollen and nectar sources, have made this garden a haven for the nearly 50 species of  birds that have been seen in or above the garden. Chickadees nest in the garden.


Pat Rudebusch’s garden, Orinda

The garden art in this Orinda garden reflects owner Pat Rudebusch’s interest in gardening for birds. Photo by Kathy Kramer.

Tip: Provide shelter for wildlife with a diversity of plant heights and types.

Quail parents and their chicks forage for seeds among the grasses in the front garden. Four species of woodpeckers, flickers, and many other types of birds are drawn by the water, seeds, and nectar provided in the garden, and the feeders (suet, mealworm, and nyjer seed). In order to protect birds, the family cat is kept indoors. More than thirty species of birds have been seen in or above the garden. Juncos nest in the front yard and a Great Horned Owl lives in the back yard, calling to its friends in the evening.

Garden Talk at 12 noon: How to garden for the birds and the bees, by Pat Rudebusch.


Al and Barbara Kyte’s garden, Moraga

Over the past 45 years, Moraga resident Al Kyte has converted his lawns into park-like landscapes that include a stream with offset falls, a meander, and a shallow riffle and bird beach area. This garden has attracted over 90 species of birds. Photo by Kathy Kramer.

Al Kyte’s garden attracts people as well as wildlife during the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour. Photo by Michael May.

Tip: Provide water and a wide variety of nesting sites, cover, and feeding options. 

Bird baths and feeders, nesting houses, a shallow stream riffle, brush piles, dust bath areas, and abundant plant cover have attracted over 90 species of birds, including thrashers, tanagers, and Black-throated Gray Warblers. See Al’s Strategy For Attracting Birds for more information.


Bob and Stephanie Sorenson’s garden, Orinda

The creek, adjacent upland, and meadow at Bob Sorenson’s half-acre Orinda garden have been planted with 150 species of native plants, which draw over 50 species of birds. Newts breed in the stream, Pacific chorus frogs call to each other in spring, and bats fly overhead in the evenings. Photo by Michael May.

Tip: Garden with local native plants.

Over the last 20 years Bob transformed a “sea of weeds” into a beautiful local native plant garden containing 150 species of local native plants.  Birds seen in the garden include Cooper’s Hawks, Cedar Waxwings, Bullock’s Orioles, California Quail, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Flickers, Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, and Western Screech Owls.

Garden walks at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., led by birder Michael Strom.


Nancy Wenninger’s garden, Walnut Creek

Nancy Wenninger’s peaceful Walnut Creek garden has attracted more than 90 species of birds. Photo by Kathy Kramer.

Drought-tolerant Islandalum root thrives in part-to-full shade and attracts hummingbirds, other birds, native bees, and butterflies to Nancy Wenninger’s garden. Photo by Michael May

Tip: The single most important thing you can do to attract birds is to provide water.

This beautiful native plant garden, designed by Kat Weiss of Kat Weiss Landscape Design, was created to attract birds—and it does! More than 90 species of birds have been seen in Nancy’s garden, drawn by the diversity of plant heights, the water features, and the bounty of nectar, seed, and fruit-bearing plants.

Garden talk at 12 noon and 3 p.m.: Gardening for the birds, by Nancy Wenninger

The thirteenth annual Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour takes place on Sunday, May 7, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Advance registration and a donation of $15 per person are required. For descriptions of all 40 gardens and registration, see Once you’ve registered, you can download a PDF with addresses of all the gardens or purchase a paper copy for $10.

Kathy Kramer, a Golden Gate Audubon Society member, is founder of the Bringing Back the Natives garden tour. She has been an environmental educator for the past thirty years and founded the Aquatic Outreach Institute (now The Watershed Project). She took her first birding class through GGAS — Beginning Birding with Anne Hoff — and was hooked. Her own native plant garden hosts 30 species of birds:

Tags: bird-friendly gardens, Bringing Back the Natives, garden tour, gardening, gardening for wildlife.


  1. Gary Stein
    April 24th, 2017 at 8:27 AM

    I Volunteer in El Salvador since 2002. On my most recent trip there I stumbled upon a group I am now working with that is developing the indegenious tree’Ojushte’.

    Their strongest need appears to be having visitors from around the world visit them and encourage them physically.

    There are huge resources in the in country fincial sector who can help them so money is not their problem.

    As you at bring back the natives I am guessing already know; this work takes time….lots of time.. Not hours. But years.

    I am 67. I need to start lining up folks to continue the work.

    When can we talk about this?