Birds Need More Than Just Trees


Warner Park, Woodland Hills, CA Photo by Kathy Vilim

Warner Park, Woodland Hills, CA Photo by Kathy Vilim

It is an unusually warm Southern California winter evening, as I contemplate this Urban Park laid out in front of me, here in Woodland Hills, CA.  I have been able to spend a lot of time at the Park while in town visiting friends, and I have noticed a definite lack of birds in the Park. I hear no bird song here. Yet, the Urban Park is full of trees, different types of trees. Some of them are native, like the California Sycamores  also known as Western Sycamores (Platanus racemosa). So, if there are trees, why aren’t Warner park there birds?

There are squirrels here, lots of them!  They are pretty bold and friendly.  Neighbors leave raw peanuts for them. (Not the best dietary choice, by the way.. Peanuts for Squirrels)  But where are the birds?  This has confounded me, as I take a walk in the park.

Friendly Squirrel, Warner Park, CA photo by Kathy Vilim

Friendly Squirrel, Warner Park, CA photo by Kathy Vilim

Across the street from the Park are condos/apts with landscaping.  That landscaping includes native plants: bushes, herbs, understory plantings, as well as groundcover instead of an endless stretch of lawn like in the Park.  And guess what? They have birds. So nice to hear bird song just across the street from the Park!

So, what gives?  If you plant trees, won’t birds come?  Squirrels are certainly on board.  But not the birds.  Birds require more.  They need native bushes with berries to eat and they need native flowers that go to seed. They need insects to eat, too.  Lawns are poor choices for insects .. springy mats, that’s all they are. There is no biodiversity in a lawn.  But bushes, ground cover “understory” plants, that’s what birds like!

So then, trees and lawn do not equal an ecosystem for wildlife by themselves.  There needs to be more.  There needs to be biodiversity. I think of an ecosystem as layers:  The tall trees, the bushes or smaller growth trees, the smaller bushes, herbs or perennials, and finally ground cover. The ground becomes littered with spent leaves and seeds from the trees, bushes and flowers.  Decaying organic matter adds nutrients to the topsoil.  Insects come and thrive. Birds eat the insects .. yes, they don’t live on berries and feeder seed alone.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) Topanga Canyon, CA  Photo by Kathy Vilim

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) Good Source of Berries for CA Birds, A Photo by Kathy Vilim

And so, when planning your native wildlife garden, you want to keep in mind the whole ecosystem.  Your garden does not have to be like this park, without bird song. Your garden can be a layered ecosystem like these neighboring properties.  Just think “layers” equal “life”.

While non-native plants can be useful to wildlife, without native plants in a garden, the life cycle is not complete.  A functioning ecosystem is one in which birds, insects, and pollinators have evolved together over time. Birds need to feed their young, and the new babies eat insects. It takes hundreds of years for insects to adapt to new plants.

If you really want to discover ecosystem gardening, I recommend reading Douglas Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home”.  It’s an eye-opener.

For help in choosing the best Shrubs in your area for Berries for Birds, a good read is this post by Carole Brown.

Nature is not just about trees and soil and air.  There’s a lot more going on. Birds need more than just trees!


© 2013, Kathy Vilim. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


  1. says

    Layer for Life! Great post, Kathy!
    I almost think the public is taking too many cues from parkland which consists of groundcover (lawn) and canopy trees. Perhaps it has to do with safety (security). Those middle layers at our height obscure sight lines which make many people uneasy. I like those layers. They add mystique to a property and are much more interesting visually, as well as offering a lot more diversity for wildlife.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment. I thought of that, bushes (middle layers) might make some people uneasy in the Park. Being able to see through all the trees creates a sense of security. But, if the Park is to be a tree museum, I wish they would at least label the trees :-)
      Kathy Vilim recently posted..California Teenage Runaway

  2. says

    Thank you for this. My husband and I are in urban Seattle for a few years, in a flat where we have no access to a garden. I regularly frequent community parks for wildlife photography opportunities and am always dismayed when they are groomed precisely in the way you describe. All of the information in your blog is material I will use, once we’re back home, planting our own native landscape for wildlife.
    Ingrid recently posted..How Much Post-Processing Do You Do?

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Ingrid. I am currently travelling, also, and miss my garden. So, I too go to community parks wherever I am, camera in hand. I’ve been getting to do a lot more photography and learning about wildlife photography as I go. The photos in your recent Post are quite handsome, by the way.
      Kathy Vilim recently posted..California Teenage Runaway

  3. says

    A great lesson…I let violets and clover grow with the grass and there seems to be more insects for birds…but my grass is minimal compared to native plants. I am adding berry bushes and awaiting more of them to grow to provide more berries. i also planted a antive black cherry and native crab apple to add more fruit for the birds.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Organic Gardening

  4. Lindsey says

    I’ve read a lot recently on creating a bird garden from Yard Envy, and one of my favorite suggestions was allowing the un-raked leaves to accumulate during the fall. This encourages insects, and thus the birds have an extra source of food.

  5. says

    This is true, birds need more bushes than trees. It’s about a healthy mix. Every single detail in nature influences the others. So trees are important as well as bushes and even ponds – for animals as well as for us humans. Great post, thank you.
    Sika recently posted..Environmental service of urban trees

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my bird & park post. I appreciate your input. It’s so true “Every single detail in nature influences the others.” Glad you enjoyed. Keep up the good work you do for our environment.
      kathy recently posted..5 Bucks Gets You 7 Minutes


  1. […] I wake to the sound of a toad, quietly bleating from the lagoon behind me, then ducks chime in, calling out noisily until toad is all but drowned out. The air smells of moisture from overnight rain. It smells clean from the ocean, and full of life from all the plants and animals here.  I am at my favorite campground on the Central California Coast. A wonderful respite from city life with its urban parks! […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge