Happy International Migratory Bird Day! Today kicks off Bird Fest week at the National Zoo. Time to give a little back to our feathered friends, who, after all, turn each spring morning into a free music festival: bel canto, flute concertos, jazz improv. But due to urban sprawl, deforestation and pesticides in the U.S. as well as their tropical winter homes, songbird populations are significantly declining.

Because songbird habitat is so fragmented, they're always on the lookout for pit stops, as it were, between swaths of meadow and forest. Birds of different species, which frequent different flyways across our nation, often prefer a region's specific native plants for food and shelter. By placing even a few indigenous plants outdoors, whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban place, you can help sustain a threatened bird. For examples, see Audubon's Plants for Watchlist Birds.

Because many species of native flora and beneficial insects (like butterflies and bees), not to mention wildlife, are also threatened or endangered, your native plantings, however small, can also help revive ecosystems. For a map with the top 10 list of native plants for your state, plus advice on safe, effective bird and butterfly feeders, go to National Wildlife Federation's backyard wildlife pages.

Plant it and they will come, and maybe stay, and next thing you know a junior opera of hatchlings may be debuting in your trees.

When you buy coffee, make it bird-friendly, grown beneath preserved tropical canopies. The better to hear them with.

Story by Mindy Pennybacker. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Give a bird a break with native plants
Planting indigenous plants can help stop the decrease of migratory bird populations.