Rules of attraction

Create a welcoming retreat for birds, butterflies with food, water and shelter
By: Lauren Webber, Gold Country Home & Garden
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Attracting birds and butterflies to Placer County back yards might not seem like an easy feat, but with the right plants and flowers, homeowners can have a back yard bursting with life and color. Butterflies, sometimes associated with luck and rejuvenation, can find a home within back yards no matter how big or small. Just like humans, they survive on three basic necessities ” food, water and shelter. They usually like sunny, open areas, said Deren Ross, a member of the Sierra Foothills Audubon chapter. It's always good to have a mixed vegetation and a variety of plants. Butterflies are particularly attracted to flowering and nectar plants, he said. They're looking for a plant their larva can feed on, Ross said. And some butterflies need a specific plant. The butterfly bush is one of the best plants to catch the attention of certain butterfly species, which are drawn to its pink or purple flowers, Ross said. They're also drawn to native shrubs such as Yerba Santa, buttonbush and coffeeberry. Heavily scented non-natives such as rosemary, lavender, lantana and lilac also attract the brightly winged insects. For smaller back yards, a garden full of nectar plants such as marigold, sunflowers and black-eyed Susan can act as a magnet. One (plant) that's really popular with butterflies in the foothills is the California buckeye, Ross said. Springtime, with different plants in bloom, brings varied butterfly species that call Placer County home. The mourning cloak is one of the first butterflies to come out in the spring, Ross said. The one that's found all over the foothills in the spring is the pipeline swallowtail (an iridescent purple and black butterfly). Cathie Tritel owner of Bluestar Landscape Designers, said that butterflies like flowering daisies and other yellow and white flowers. Tritel offers landscape design specializing in yards that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and wildlife. We need to think of our back yards as homes to these creatures, she said. The number one request homeowners bring to Tritel's business is for their home to be an inviting atmosphere for hummingbirds. Like butterflies, hummingbirds are drawn to color. They like the colors of red and fuchsia, Tritel said. They are also attracted to tubular-shaped flowers, which explains the shape and colors of hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds are very abundant right now, said Heath Wakelee, president of the Sierra Foothills Audubon chapter. Especially plentiful is Anna's hummingbird, named after the wife of one of Napoleon's generals, he said. He thought the hummingbird was so beautiful, Wakelee said. Other thriving springtime birds in Placer County are the white-crowned sparrow, golden-crowned sparrow, American goldfinch and lesser goldfinch, according to Wakelee. A lot of good Western bluebirds are here right now, he said. Year-round birds people are seeing are mourning doves and house finches. The tree swallows are insect eaters and consume mosquitoes ” something many people favor, he said. An abundance of food is necessary for any type of wildlife to survive. Many birds thrive on birdseed. Thistle seed is popular with finches, sunflower seeds are best for larger birds and mixed seed caters to most other bird species, said Jeannie Ross, a saleswoman with Bushnell Gardens Nursery in Granite Bay. During the season of renewal, birds search for safe spots to call home. Birds are looking for nesting materials this time of year, she said. Bushnell Gardens Nursery not only sells bird-attracting plants, but also gives homeowners options for birdfeeders, birdbaths and fountains. With TLC, birds and butterflies will be fluttering through homeowners' backyards well beyond spring.