Plants for Birds: It’s Not Too Late to Dig In!

By Noreen Weeden


Planting season in the San Francisco Bay Area is late fall through winter.  With a forecast of rain ahead, it is not too late to get some beautiful native plants in the ground to benefit our birds.  You may have heard that Plants for Birds is an exciting partnership of GGBA and the Yerba Buena chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). This season we are promoting a native tree, vine, bush and groundcover.  Each of these plants provide food for butterflies and birds.

Over one third of the birds in the US eat insects. Doug Tallamy, entomologist and author, has worked with student researchers conducting studies on the insects which eat or lay eggs on plants which are then consumed by birds.    In fascinating co-evolutionary strategies most insects require specific plants.  Many exotic plants and plants sold as pest free have chemicals in their tissues which repel insects.

Early last year I spoke with Kathy Kramer of Bringing Back the Natives fame.  She and her husband Michael May had taken Tallamy’s research and looked at west coast plant – insect associations.  Taking this further was a chance to evaluate San Francisco plant species.  Using that data, I took the San Francisco plant list and looked at CalScape- a CNPS plant resource.  After analyzing these a tree, vine, bush and groundcover were selected for the program which attract local birds and butterflies.  The GGBA San Francisco Conservation Committee then went to work to make it local by contacting local nurseries to see if they would be interested in selling these plants.  Qiting “Tina” Cai, an intern with CNPS, prepared graphics to promote these plants.

This season’s four fabulous featured plants:

Coast Red-flowering Currant Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum is an awesome plant. It blooms in the winter and is attractive to Anna’s Hummingbirds and the Satyr Comma and Ceanothus Silkmoth.

Coast Red-flowering Currant by Noreen Weeden


Anna’s Hummingbird by Noreen Weeden

Coffeeberry Frangula californica a bush with berries which Cedar Waxwing and other birds consume and the Gray Hairstreak and Pale Swallowtail Butterflies depend upon.

Coffeeberry by Neal Kramer


Cedar Waxwings by Noreen Weeden

California Honeysuckle Lonicera hispidula is a native vine with pink flowers appeal to Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds and Chestnut-backed Chickadee as well as the Variable Checkerspot butterfly.

California Honeysuckle by Margo Bors


Allen’s Hummingbird by Noreen Weeden

Beach Strawberry Fragaria chiloensis was the selected groundcover.  This hardy plant grows in sandy soil and has small berries that California Towhee and Song Sparrows eat and are a draw for the Clepsis fucana moth.

Beach Strawberry by Noreen Weeden


California Towhee by Noreen Weeden

Super local San Francisco nurseries that are carrying these plants are Cole Hardware and Bay Natives.  Clement Nursery and Flora Grubb carry some of these featured plants.

Call ahead to order one or more of these plants to grow in your outdoor space.  We hope that you join us in digging in to invite more birds to your backyard, patio or deck.  Our plan is to select another set of plants for next fall and winter to enable you to expand your native garden.  You can contribute to local biodiversity while enjoying our native birds, butterflies and plants.

About Noreen: Noreen Weeden is an avid birder and GGBA’s now retired Volunteer Services Manager. In her position, Noreen inspired the GGBA community for over 15 years. Her extraordinary accomplishments include the restoration of Pier 94, Lights Out for Bird Migration advocacy, and inspiring GGBA staff and volunteers alike to help birds.