Trees and Shrubs for Bugs that Feed Birds

Native Gardeners Corner—Members’ Tips, Tricks, and Techniques
2018 November-December

“What native shrubs or trees do you grow (or want to grow) that will provide food for the bugs that feed the majority of our nesting birds?”


This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to  share information related to gardening with natives.

(Note: This question is based on the concept that almost 90% of nesting birds feed their nestlings on insects NOT seeds regardless of the birds “normal” diet. Check

Leon Baginski: “That’s an easy one. If you want to feed birds you have to go with plants that are host to many different insects. Black willow (Salix gooddingii) and coast live oak are my go to plants for insects galore and therefore birds galore. Woodpeckers, jays, bush-tits, wrens, towhees, and a host of others picking off insects by the bushel. Can’t go wrong with those two.”

Nancy Harris: “I planted a small Toyon in the front yard two years ago and it took off.  In the fall it produced flowers, which turned to very small white berries and I was expecting to have a bumper crop of beautiful red berries for Christmas like we get at Shipley Nature Center.  Well, apparently, insects nibbled on all the white berries and no red berries appeared.  Same thing this year.  Since my Toyon is the only one within a mile from Shipley, I think all the insects close by must feed on it.  Therefore, insects for bird food instead of berries!”

Laura Camp: “I observe the most bug-gleaning activity by birds on my low shrubby plants: buckwheat, San Diego sunflower, but especially sages.”

Dan Songster: Oaks are well known for the insects they harbor and the birds that love to feed on them. Alder and Prunus species are also good. Willows are great though much too big for most home gardens, but many of the smaller plants provide places for spiders and other insects to live and feed. Deerweed attracts several insects including several of our local butterflies like Hairstreaks and Blues to lay their eggs where their larvae will later feed. And just think of my Coast Goldenbush—an insect magnet!

Most important for providing bugs for birds is no routine use of insecticides! Let the various bugs flourish and you will see lizards and birds move into your yard and raise their families. Also, it seems that the less drought-stricken a garden is the more succulent vegetation there is for bugs to eat, so a bit of judicial watering to keep plants robust may also serve to keep the bugs and birds happy.