Native plants are better for birds than non-native plants.

That’s the main finding of a study on chickadees and the caterpillars they eat.

A Carolina chickadee with its caterpillar dinner. Photo: D. Tallamy courtesy of Desiree Narango

Desiree Narango is the lead author. She’s a research fellow at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware.

“From the chickadee’s perspective, it’s as if a non-native plant isn’t even there at all because they almost never forage in them,” she says.

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Narango studied the chickadees that look for food in people’s backyards in cities and suburbs. She found that native plants were better homes for the caterpillars that chickadees eat.

“But most importantly, we found the backyards that had more native plant species were much more likely to have breeding pairs of chickadees as well,” she says.

Researcher Desiree Narango with a white-breasted nuthatch. Photo: B. Stewart, courtesy of Desiree Narango

And she says some native plants seem to be especially good.

“We did find some species like oaks and cherries and elms support many species of caterpillars, so they’re also really great food hubs for birds,” says Narango.

She says hickories and maples are good too; you can check out Narango’s list of which native plants hosted the most caterpillars here (click on the words “lepidoptera index”).

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