Native Plants as Habitat for Nesting Birds

This is a revision and update to an original tale published by Loret T. Setters on May 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Saltbush is a favorite of many, including this Ground-Dove
Saltbush is a favorite of many, including this Ground-Dove

I have a bird nest explosion going on down here in Central Florida. The bluebirds are cavity nesters that have set up shop in the provided nest boxes, but many species of birds are making use of the plethora of native plants in the form of trees, shrubs and vines that make up my landscape.

Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) is a favorite nesting shrub for mockingbirds
Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) is a favorite nesting shrub for mockingbirds

Northern Mockingbirds lead the pack.  Two successful broods have already fledged at my place with two more underway.  It isn’t the same pair having all the babies.  In addition, I see other mockers flying with food and building materials, so there must be more nests close-by on neighboring properties.

What native plants are the choices for Mockingbirds? Just about any tree, vine or shrub with dense foliage to hide in. They don’t seem fussy at all.

Mockingbird success in a great spot at the crossroads of a palm, sumac and smilax
Mockingbird success in a great spot at the crossroads of a palm, sumac and smilax

This year the mockingbirds found a prime spot in a junction where three Florida Native Plants meet: a young Cabbage Palm Tree (Sabal palmetto), a Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) and a Greenbrier vine  (Smilax sp.).

coral honeysuckle is a great hidden location
coral honeysuckle is a great hidden location

I’ve also seen a mockingbird hard at work bringing building materials into a tangle of Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Time will tell if that’s a smart choice.  There was a black racer snake living under there not too long ago.

Bayberry shrubs provide good branching to hold up this Mockingbird nest
Bayberry shrubs provide good branching to hold up this Mockingbird nest

Last year the mockingbirds had a failure and then a success in a Holly (Ilex sp.) and the same thing has happened in Bayberry shrubs in past years.

Mockingbird Success in Live Oak
Mockingbird Success in Live Oak

Any variety of oak trees seems to meet their needs. In past years they’ve had success in both Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia).

Wax Myrtle a.k.a. Southern Bayberry (Myrica cerifera) has been a favorite shrub choice in many years past.

Saltbush fits the bill for Mockingbirds
Saltbush fits the bill for Mockingbirds

So has Groundsel a.k.a. Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia).

Mockingbird scouting for prime real estate in native grapevines
Mockingbird scouting for prime real estate in native grapevines

I’ve also found mockingbird nests in the tangle of Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia), the grapevines that grow along the fence.

High in the pines for Grackles
High in the pines for Grackles

In 2014 the Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) decided to grace me with their presence.  They chose three sites to build nests and there was activity in two of them.  One pair built high up in a Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris). At the same time, another pair decided on a Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine) that was particularly well hidden. I knew it was there because I saw Mom bringing in nesting materials and recently sneaking in with tasty morsels while she thought I wasn’t looking.  HA!  I saw her, but dang if I could get a good enough view of the nest for a photo.

Common ground doves go for the ready made in the form of an airplant that landed in the laurel oak
Common ground doves go for the ready made in the form of an airplant that landed in the laurel oak

The doves seem partial to oaks. That could be because they tend to take the easy road. In the case of the Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina) they’ve made use of a “ready-made” nest in the form of a Southern Needleleaf Airplant (Tillandsia setacea) which is an epiphytic that found its way into the fork of the laurel oak branches.

Mourning Doves have built their very own in the Laurel Oak but it is a little messy and sparse in the materials used.
Mourning Doves have built their very own in the Laurel Oak but it is a little messy and sparse in the materials used.

The Mourning Doves  (Zenaida macroura) have taken to revamping the used nests of the mockingbirds on many different occasions.  I can see why, they aren’t the best at new construction.  This year they decided to give it a go in the Laurel Oak. The nest seems a little sparse in materials.  I can see big gaps that let the light shine through. But hey, they seem happy enough.

Flycatcher goes for the pine snags
Flycatcher goes for the pine snags
As does the brownheaded nuthatch
As does the brownheaded nuthatch

Other native plants are those that have moved toward the final stage of life, the tree snags. Both the Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) and Brown-Headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) have hammered away carving out a place to call home.

The Mourning Doves recycle a used Mockingbird nest in the Live Oak
The Mourning Doves recycle a used Mockingbird nest in the Live Oak

Brown Thrashers (Toxostoma rufum) secret their nests in tangles of Virginia Creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). I found two different ones in the spring of 2016:thrasherNestCreeperJuly2016

 

Singing the praises of Native Plants
Singing the praises of Native Plants

Plant it and they will come!

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