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Information iconA Hunt’s bumblebee feeds on rubber rabbitbrush at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

Create a Balcony Pollinator Garden  

Winterize Your Pollination Garden

Bees, bats, birds and butterflies do us an important service: As they visit flowers to feed on nectar, they carry pollen from plant to plant. This movement of pollen from a flower’s male stamen to its female stigma — or that of the next flower — fertilizes plants and produces fruits and seeds.

Most of the world's flowering plants and crops depend on the hard-working insects and birds we call pollinators. 

Without pollinators, we would miss out on many fruits, vegetables and nuts — not to mention chocolate and coffee.

But pollinators are in trouble.


Threats to Pollinators

hummingbird hawk moth feeds on thistle at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge Patricia McGuire
A hummingbird hawk moth flies to thistle at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. (Photo: Patricia McGuire/Share the Experience, 2019 contest)

For the past 25 years, many species of bees and other pollinators have experienced large drops in numbers. Among the causes:

For more information on threats to pollinators, see Status of Pollinators in North America, a 2007 report from the National Academy of Science.


Plight of the Monarch

monarch butterfly on rabbitbrush seedskadee photo by tom koerner
A monarch butterfly feeds on rubber rabbitbrush at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

The monarch butterfly, probably the world’s best-known butterfly, has become the symbol for a whole class of imperiled pollinators.

A monarch butterfly can travel up to 3,000 miles during fall migration. But the spectacular fall flight of millions of monarchs is threatened by loss of habitat in overwintering areas and throughout breeding and migration areas.

In recent decades, numbers of North American monarchs have plummeted. Both the eastern population (which overwinters in Mexico) and the western population (which overwinters in California) are down. Status reports are based on annual counts at overwintering sites.

From 1996 to 2020, the eastern monarch population dropped 88 percent, from an estimated 383 million to just under 45 million.  

Since the 1980s, the western overwintering population has dropped more than 99 percent, from 4.5 million to 1,914 monarchs.

On December 15, 2020, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a 12-month finding on a petition to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. After a thorough review of the monarch’s status, the Service determined that listing is “warranted, but precluded” at this time because of higher-priority listing actions.

The Service is working with federal and state agencies, tribes and non-government groups to conserve monarchs. These efforts involve engaging the public in creating and restoring habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.


Threatened and Endangered Pollinators

oregon silverspot butterfly photo by peter pearsall usfws
The Fish and Wildlife Service and partners are helping to recover the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly. (Photo: Peter Pearsall/USFWS)

Some 70 pollinator species are so imperiled that they qualify as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. See the list.


How the Fish and Wildlife Service Helps Pollinators

hummingbird and trumpet flower Blackwater NWR photo by Patricia McGuire
A hummingbird prepares to dive into a trumpet flower at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. (Photo: Patricia McGuire/Share the Experience, 2019 contest)

The Fish and Wildlife Service leads many efforts to stabilize and improve pollinator status. For example:


“Before” and “after” photos of a Partners for Fish and Wildlife prairie seeding project in Arkansas. (Photo: Mike Budd/USFWS)


How You Can Help

Gisela Chapa, then-manager of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, helps elementary school students plant a pollinator garden. (Photo: Ian Shive/Tandem)

Here are some simple things you can do to help pollinators.

1) Plant a Pollinator Garden
To attract a variety of pollinators, include a selection of plants native to your region. Native milkweed is vital for monarch butterflies to grow, develop and reproduce. Check field guides to find out which plants local caterpillars eat. Find pollinator-friendly plants for your area. Contact your local or state native plant society for help. Your local agricultural extension service is also a good resource.

Other resources for native plants include the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, with lists of native plant suppliers and a resident horticulturalist to answer questions.

2) Provide Pollinator Nesting Habitat
Pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds need places to nest as well as plants to feed on. Creating these places is surprisingly easy. Overlook some bare patches at the edge of your lawn. Many native bees are ground nesters. They need well-drained bare soil to create burrows.

Other native bees are cavity nesters; they make their homes in dead wood or brush. Leave plant stems, fallen logs or stumps for bees, beetles and flies to use for nesting. Allow some twigs and leaf litter to remain where they fall to provide overwinter shelter for many insect pollinators.

More help on creating pollinator-nesting habitat.  

3) Avoid or Limit Pesticide Use
Make pesticides your option of last resort in battling weeds and crop and garden pests. Try these steps first.


common milkweed Kate Miyamoto
Without milkweed — the host plant for the monarch — monarch caterpillars can’t survive. (Photo: Kate Miyamoto/USFWS)


Educator Resources

Bumblebees are efficient pollinators that use vibration to release pollen. (Photo: Mike Budd/USFWS)

Monarch Watch
Monarch Joint Venture
Xerces Society
Pollinator Partnership
Journey North
Save the Monarch 

More Information
Story: “Wings of Life”

How to create a monarch waystation

How to build a pollinator garden
How to restore overwintering habitat  

Introduction to pollinators for use by nature centers, scouts, 4-H groups and others. ”The Birds and the Bees and . . .The Beetles. Why Care about Pollinators”  
(PowerPoint 4 MB)

“What is the Buzz with Pollinators?” Facebook Live presentation from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Pennsylvania

Fact Sheets
Reducing Risks to Pollinators from Insect and Plant Pest Control/Yards and Gardens (pdf)
Reducing Risks to Pollinators from Insect and Plant Pest Control/Farmlands
Pollinator-Friendly Practices (pdf)
Solving Your Pest Problems Without Harming Pollinators (pdf)
Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden (pdf)

Other Federal Pollinator Sites
National Park Service
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Department of Agriculture


Information iconA monarch butterfly, a honeybee and another insect visit coneflowers in Michigan. (Photo: Jim Hudgins/USFWS)