Birding Online: April 2024

Editor, Birding special issues

American beautyberry (Cal- licarpa americana) is native to most of the southeastern United States. Its beautiful fruit are eaten in fall and winter by birds such as this Gray Catbird—and by people who use them to make a sweet, piney- tasting jelly. In addition, beautyberry sports frothy pink flowers in early summer and glowing golden foliage in late fall. This eas- ily manageable understory shrub thrives in shady conditions and is a great choice for gardens in and near its native range. It’s one of the many species that Leslie Edwards grows in her Georgia garden. See what she says about beautyberry, and much more, starting on p. 46. Photo by © Sujata Roy.

From the Editor

We had such a great response to the first Gardening special issue of Birding back in 2022 that we decided to bring the topic back this year! These two gardening issues are probably quite different from anything else seen from the ABA. Rather than the standard handful of beefy feature articles heavily concentrating on birds, these issues comprise a series of essays from wildlife gardeners spread out over Canada and the U.S.


In their essays, these gardeners offer practical tips for gardening in their area/climate, both for aesthetics and, especially, wildlife. They also share their overall philosophies of gardening, their favorite native plants, proper growing conditions, and which invasive plants you should avoid in your garden. You’ll see an emphasis on plants that are specifically beneficial to birds (e.g., tubular flowers for hummingbirds, berries for thrushes, asters for sparrows) and insect pollinators.

Plants, in general, are food for insects, which are food for birds. That’s the main thrust of Dave Leatherman’s essay: If you install plants in your garden, insects will come, and so will the birds! But what’s more, he explains that by using tools such as iNaturalist, you have a real opportunity to make new discoveries about how these moving pieces interact.

Just as important as the interactions among plants, birds, and insects are the interactions that we people have with nature. The human–nature connection is the raison de être for the community garden tended by Carrielynn Victor and others of the XwChíyó:m first nation.

While most of our essayists rightly emphasize planting native species, carefully selected nonnative plants can also be beneficial to native wildlife. For example, where I live in north-central Texas, nonnative hellebores are abuzz with pollinators in early spring, and nonnative Mexican giant cigar plant (Cuphea micropelatla) is beloved by hummingbirds. Neither is invasive. Meanwhile, heavenly “bamboo” (Nandina domestica) is both toxic to birds and a broad-shouldered scourge in local forest understories. Never plant species that are invasive in your area, and always be a good neighbor by ensuring that every non-native plant and its offspring remain restricted to your garden.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to own land to garden for wildlife! A couple pots on a patio or front step filled with blooming red cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis)* or hummingbird mint (Agastache sp.)* are probably all you need to attract hummingbirds to your home. And a small boxed herb garden with blooming basil, thyme, and rosemary will be much appreciated by local pollinators. But beyond providing food and shelter with plants, perhaps the simplest thing you can do to attract and help birds is to provide a safe, clean, and dependable source of water for bathing and drinking. This can be anything from a small birdbath with a $12 solar-powered bubbler to a more elaborate water feature with a drip.

We’ve tried to offer perspectives from varied geographic areas, but with only nine essays, inevitably not all regions and climates will be represented in these pages. If you are a wildlife gardener in one of these areas, I welcome you to write an essay for the next Gardening issue. And speaking of your contributions, the ABA continually strives to make heard the voices of historically marginalized and under-represented groups in birding. We urgently want and need to hear more and varied perspectives in these pages, so that we can all become more informed and understanding birders.

I hope that there is something of use and interest to you in this issue. Please don’t ever hesitate to contact me at with your ideas for future content. Even better: Write about it yourself for the next issue! And finally, please consider sharing this issue by giving your hard copy to a friend or family member when you’re done.

Happy Gardening and Good Birding!

Michael L. P. Retter

Editor, Birding Special Issues