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Native Plants Provide Pit Stops for Bird Migration through NC

The swamp sparrow is among the birds traveling through North Carolina this month, on its way south for the winter. (Kenneth Cole Schneider)
The swamp sparrow is among the birds traveling through North Carolina this month, on its way south for the winter. (Kenneth Cole Schneider)
October 29, 2018

CLEMMONS, N.C. – Chances are more than a few North Carolinians turned on their heat this weekend and dug out winter clothes as temperatures start to drop.

The same shifting season is also prompting birds to fly south for the winter, but increases in urban development sometimes make it difficult for them to find food.

Jesse Anderson, president of the Audubon Society of Forsyth County, says people can support the birds’ travels by planting native plants in their yards and gardens.

"The insects that are native to here are feeding on those plants as the birds are migrating, and the birds have a huge resource of both seeds, berries, and these native caterpillars," Anderson points out.

Forsyth County is home to Tanglewood Park. It's part of the North Carolina Birding Trail, created in 2004 as a joint project of the Audubon Society and Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development, Inc., a nonprofit group that focuses on environmental restoration.

Anderson says native plants along waterways also reduce erosion and maintain water quality.

Darin Young, chair of Pilot View, says by planting native vegetation, or leaving natural vegetation in place, people can support an entire ecosystem.

"Mother Nature kind of takes back over, from where it had been in poor quality beforehand, with the stream restoration and the bank restoration and all that,” she explains. “It just provides a better habitat for all wildlife, not only just the fish, but also the birds and deer, and small animals."

Anderson says communities or individuals looking to landscape should think twice before using plants just because they're readily available at the big box stores. He says give some thought to how useful the plants will be in nature.

"With increases in development, there's a large push to install plants that are low-maintenance and may look appealing for most of the year,” he points out. “However, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a good plant for birds and wildlife."

This month, birds arriving in North Carolina include the swamp sparrow, white-throated sparrow, dark-eyed junco and white-crowned sparrow.

Many garden stores are now identifying plants and seed mixes on their shelves, and the Audubon Society also keeps a list of native plants on its website.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC