Native Plant Profiles

A River Birch Oasis

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 River Birch is another of our Bird-Friendly Native Plants of the Year for 2016. Find this and other plants at your local participating retailer

If you have space to plant just one tree to feed your birds, you can’t go wrong with the River Birch. It’s a rockstar among North Carolina’s bird-friendly native plants.

Birches provide a bounty of caterpillars, the most important food for baby songbirds. More than 400 species of moths and caterpillars lay their eggs on birches in North America, according to Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home. Tallamy ranks birches in the Top 5 best woody plants for wildlife.

The seeds of a river birch will attract a variety of birds – nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, sparrows, towhees, tanagers, grosbeaks, cardinals and finches – in May and June. Songbirds also munch on the flower buds.

River Birch even offers up food to birds in winter. Woodpeckers nab insects hiding under birches’ peeling bark.

How To Grow

River Birch, Betula nigra, is native to the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of North Carolina as well as the Mountain region, where it is less common. River Birch is a fast grower, and will reach a height of 40 to 80 feet, with a canopy spread of 15 to 25 feet.

Choose a site with sun to part sun and wet to average soil. River Birches will tolerate seasonal flooding, so you can plant them near a downspout. River Birch is a good choice for urban areas, as it copes well with drought and compacted soil. Dwarf and heat-tolerant cultivars are also available.

River Birch 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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