Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals
Landscaping for Winter Birds (page 3 of 3)
by Amy Bartlett Wright
When birds feed on the seeds or berries of plants, they spread them later in their droppings. This seed dispersal often leads to the propagation of new plants. Therefore, it is a good idea to use native plants instead of introduced ones to attract birds. Natives are well adapted to local soil types and climates, and don't require special winter protection or soil amendments to thrive. Also, many native plants are being stressed or extinguished by invasive or introduced species such as bittersweet vine (Celastrus scandens), Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), and English ivy (Hedera helix).
Birch (Betula). Seeds of several native species feed siskins and redpolls. Shed bark is used for nesting material. Trees produce conelike fruit in fall.
Evergreens. Cedar (Cedrus), juniper (Juniperus), spruce (Picea), pine (Pinus), hemlock (Tsuga). The thick branches of native evergreens provide birds with necessary winter shelter from the elements and year-round protection from predators. Game birds and waxwings eat the berries of cedars and junipers. Chickadees, crossbills, goldfinches, nuthatches, siskins, and woodpeckers pick the winged seeds out of pine and spruce cones.
Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). This tree, native to the eastern states, is also called sugarberry because of its purplish fruit. It attracts game birds, finches, thrushes, and woodpeckers. Western hackberry (C. reticulata) has tiny red or brown berries, and desert hackberry (C. pallida) is useful as a honey source or bird food.
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). This eastern native tree grows in shade or sun, and produces red berries that attract game birds and many songbirds. Its western counterpart is Pacific or western dogwood (C. nuttallii).
American beech (Fagus grandifolia). The nuts of these large and long-lived native trees are food for blackbirds, chickadees, jays, and tufted titmice.
American holly (Ilex opaca). Holly is associated with the holiday season because of its vibrant red berries against pointed dark green leaves. The bounty of berries will sustain a variety of birds including cedar waxwings, finches, mockingbirds, thrushes, and woodpeckers. Many other species of holly grow as shrubs. Note that most holly plants are male or female, and both are required for the female to bear fruit.
Crabapple (Malus). This tree is popular with landscapers, who favor its beautiful flowers, and birds, such as cedar waxwings, finches, and mockingbirds, which enjoy the fruits well into winter.
Tupelo (Nyssa). These native gums love damp woods. Black and sour gum (N. sylvatica) and cotton gum (N. aquatica), found in southern regions, are magnificent large trees. Sour gum also grows in the West. The dark blue fruits are tasty to game birds, mockingbirds, thrushes, and waxwings. One of the last trees to produce foliage in spring, the tupelo is the first to turn blazing red in late summer.
Cherry (Prunus). Pin cherry (P. pensylvanica), black cherry (P. serotina), and chokecherry (P. virginiana) are some of the best trees for attracting birds. Cedar waxwings, crows, finches, flycatchers, grosbeaks, grouse, jays, mockingbirds, pheasants, thrushes, vireos, and woodpeckers feed on their fruits.
Oak (Quercus). Acorns are a winter staple not only for squirrels and chipmunks but also for many bird species. Crows, ducks, flickers, grouse, jays, nuthatches, pheasants, quail, titmice, towhees, turkeys, and woodpeckers enjoy feeding on acorns.
American mountain ash (Sorbus americana). Grouse, thrushes, waxwings, and woodpeckers enjoy the clusters of scarlet fall berries, which remain on the tree all winter if not eaten.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier). These hardy shrubs or small trees -- also called shadbush, shadblow, or saskatoon -- are seen as understory in sparse woods or at woodland edges. The early show of white blooms adds to the landscape well before their dark berries benefit birds.
Holly (Ilex). Some are evergreen, such as inkberry (I. glabra), and some are deciduous, such as winterberry (I. verticillata). Female plants produce berries that sustain birds including cedar waxwings, finches, mockingbirds, thrushes, and woodpeckers.
Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). This hardy native shrub is commonly found in sandy soil along coastal areas. Female plants produce an abundance of hard, waxy berries that attract bluebirds, crows, game birds, meadowlarks, myrtle warblers, tree swallows, and woodpeckers.
Rose (Rosa). Rose hips are a winter food source for game birds and songbirds, to whom they are available when preferred foods are covered with snow.
Yew (Taxus canadensis). This common plant is adaptable both for trimmed hedges and natural spreading. Its dense evergreen growth offers security for birds. Game birds, mockingbirds, robins, and sparrows enjoy the juicy, sticky red fruits.
Blueberry (Vaccinium). Highbush (V. corymbosum) and lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium) are widespread native species whose berries feed game birds, jays, orioles, sparrows, tanagers, thrushes, towhees, waxwings, and woodpeckers. Mammals such as deer will eat the woody shoots in midwinter when other foods are scarce.
Viburnum (Viburnum). Several species of these deciduous or evergreen shrubs are attractive to gardeners and birds alike. Gardeners enjoy the plants' form, foliage, and blooms, while birds enjoy their berries. The fruits are red, blue, or black and are quickly consumed in late summer and early fall by finches, game birds, mockingbirds, thrushes, waxwings, and woodpeckers.
Author and artist Amy Bartlett Wright lives in Rhode Island.
Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association