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Butterflies Among the Flowers

Winged creatures deserving of our attention and affection

The Humane Society of the United States

  • The mourning cloak butterfly is one of the few that overwinters as an adult. iStockphoto.com

  • Flitting white cabbage butterflies are a common sight in most gardens. iStockphoto.com

  • The spring azure—named for the timing of its arrival and its exquisite color—is common in the east. Leslie Marr

  • Look for butterflies where ever there may be wet sand or mud like this "puddling" painted lady. Nature Niche/iStockphoto

Butterfly watching is becoming more popular as new binoculars make close-range focusing possible, and new field guides make identification easier.

Learn the basics about the species you are most likely to see: size, shape of wings, resting posture, manner of flight, and color.

Seek and ye shall find

Look for butterflies wherever there are flowers with nectar or food plants for their larvae. Add both types of plantings to your yard to lure butterflies into your daily life—and never use pesticides, as they kill butterflies and many other living things.

Look on tops of low hills and along trails and gullies—places male butterflies patrol while looking for females. Check out puddles and pond edges for “puddle parties”—butterflies sip moisture from mud or wet sand to obtain salt.

What you'll see

Butterfly species vary from place to place, but here are a few butterflies commonly found throughout much of North America in summer:

  • Mourning Cloak butterflies are one of the longest-lived butterflies (almost 10 months, due to overwintering as adults). They are seen in forests, along streamsides and roadsides, and in open fields and city parks. 
  • Cabbage White butterflies were introduced to North America from Europe in the 19th century and spread across the continent in our gardens. They have many broods each season, with larvae feeding upon cabbage, nasturtium, watercress, capers, and mustards.
  • Spring Azure butterflies (formerly one species, now known to include nine or more) are one of the most abundant butterflies in woods and gardens. Males have bright pale blue above with narrow dark borders on the upper edge of their forewings; females are lighter in color and have wider dark borders on their forewings.


  • Brock, Jim P. and Kenn Kaufman. Kenn Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
  • Heinrich, Bernd. Summer World: a season of bounty. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
  • North American Butterfly Association 
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

Create a Humane Backyard

A place that offers food, shelter, water, refuge from toxic sprays, and safety from mowers—it’s what every creature wants, right? They want a Humane Backyard. By making simple changes, you can create that haven of comfort and security for local wildlife. And you can do it anywhere: in the city, suburbs, or country. So look around--at your backyard, balcony, or the park down the street—then let us teach you how to make your own Humane Backyard. Once you’ve learned how, take our Humane Backyard pledge.

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