Native Plant Profiles

Enjoy A Living Bird Feeder with Little Bluestem

Please welcome Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator Kim Brand. Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities initiative is a partnership program involving more than 20 organizations whose mission is to create a more bird-friendly North Carolina. This vision statement guides the goals and projects of the group: “Bird-friendly communities give birds the opportunity to succeed by providing connected habitat dominated by native plants, minimizing threats posed by the built environment, and engaging people of all ages and backgrounds in stewardship of nature.”

The Little Bluestem is among our Bird-Friendly Native Plants of the Year for 2016

Planting Little Bluestem in your yard is like planting a living bird feeder. A classic American tallgrass prairie plant, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, will grow nicely in your yard, in a perennial border, flower bed or meadow garden.

This perennial grass can be surprisingly colorful, with “leaves green to bluish, turning orangish to reddish in fall and into winter,” according to Dr. Larry Mellichamp, author of Native Plants of the Southeast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 460 Species for the Garden.

Find this and other plants at your local participating retailer.

Birds That Love Bluestem

The seeds of the Little Bluestem will attract a variety of birds – cardinals, buntings, finches, grosbeaks, sparrows and towhees – from October through March. Little Bluestem seeds are an especially important food for sparrows during their southward migration each fall, but the seeds will keep feeding birds all winter long.

One bird you might be especially happy to have in your yard during winter is the Song Sparrow. According to Donald Kroodsma in The Singing Life of Birds, young males move away from their parents’ territory during their summer and settle in a new place. Once there, their mission is to learn their neighbors’ songs and polish them in time to impress a potential mate in the spring. That means they practice all winter long, when many of our common backyard birds are relatively quiet. Their juvenile efforts at the three-part song are sometimes endearingly comic.

The dapper White-throated Sparrow – a far-north breeder who joins us in NC only in winter – is another bird that will cheer your wintry days with his sweet, clear whistled song if you have a good supply of seeds.

Many birds like to build nests in Little Bluestem clumps in fields and meadows, including Field Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats. The plant also supports six species of moths and butterflies, so birds might be able to pluck a few caterpillars off these grasses for their babies.

How To Grow

Little Bluestem is native to the Mountains, Piedmont and Coastal Plain of North Carolina. This bird-friendly native plant is a perennial grass that will grow 1 to 4 feet tall. It forms clumps that range from 6 to 24 inches across. Choose a sunny spot with moist to dry soil.

For a meadow garden, plant Little Bluestem with other clump-forming native grasses such as Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus). Broad-leaved perennials like Black-eyed Susan are best planted at edges since they won’t compete well with the grasses.

Little Bluestem is one of our 2016 Bird-Friendly Native Plants of the Year. Check out our Growing Guide for more details on this and more bird-friendly native plants for North Carolina. 

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