Kirsten Hines is a Miami-based author, photographer and environmental conservationist with a background in biology. She is co-author of the award-winning books Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens and Birds of Fairchild, as well as the Institute for Regional Conservation’s online plant resource, Natives for Your Neighborhood. She lectures throughout the region on gardening for wildlife in South Florida.

Kirsten Hines is a Miami-based author, photographer and environmental conservationist with a background in biology. She is co-author of the award-winning books Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens and Birds of Fairchild, as well as the Institute for Regional Conservation’s online plant resource, Natives for Your Neighborhood. She lectures throughout the region on gardening for wildlife in South Florida.

Watching birds flit about your garden can be rewarding. But in South Florida, it’s more than personal satisfaction. Urbanization has claimed many natural upland habitats, converting forest to concrete and leaving little space for wildlife. Native resident bird populations are at a serious disadvantage.

Migratory birds are particularly challenged because they might not be able to find the few remaining natural patches of land to replenish their energy before continuing their trip. Fortunately, there are easy actions you can take to transform your yard into an essential habitat that will attract more birds and contribute to the re-greening of South Florida.

  • Select native plants. South Florida’s native plants are a mix of temperate and tropical species. Temperate plants, such as live oaks, reached South Florida from the North, accompanied by communities of insects that are an important food source for birds, particularly migratory birds. Tropical plants, such as gumbo-limbos, are especially bird-friendly because of their fruits, having been brought from the tropics by the birds themselves. Making the core of your landscape a mix of native temperate and tropical plants ensures birds get the foods they know.
  • Arrange plantings naturally. Evenly spaced lines of plants are rarely seen in nature and provide little wildlife benefit. Birds need places to roost, feed, nest and escape from predators. Think of a forest edge where grasses merge into shrubbery, bushes mingle with trees, and vines clamber past orchids and bromeliads into the sky. Many different types of natural habitats are contained within a small space. This can be emulated within a garden by arranging plants in clusters. Plant several trees together, surrounding them with an assortment of bushes and flowering plants that transition to a diverse lawn. Water features, rocks and open soil add more habitat.
  • Aim for diversity. The ultimate goal in a garden designed for native birds and wildlife is to provide everything they might need to survive throughout the year. Include as diverse a collection of bird-friendly plants as you can to provide year-round food. Each plant species has its own season for flowering, fruiting and providing insects, so combining many different plants provides a variety of food sources year-round.

Whether your garden is confined to a few pots on a balcony or sprawls across several acres, applying these concepts will benefit not only birds, but also butterflies—including the monarchs Coconut Creek has vowed to protect—and other native wildlife.

grow your garden

Want to learn more about gardening for birds and wildlife? Kirsten Hines speaks at Coconut Creek City Hall on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.