Many native trees and shrubs offer nutritious fruits that are attractive to birds. Here, a cedar waxwing feasts on gooseberries.
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume
C. Colston Burrell, an expert on native plants and a landscape designer, replies: Providing fruit year-round is the best way to attract birds to your yard. When you create a smorgasbord for wild birds, you will serve two different groups—winter residents and summer residents. In spring and fall, you will also offer an important food supply for migrant species. You will attract different groups of birds to your garden depending on which shrubs you plant. If possible, plant enough different species to provide food throughout the year.
It’s important to choose regionally native shrubs for your bird garden. When birds eat fruits, they distribute the seeds in their droppings. Many exotic pest plants that are encroaching on our gardens and natural areas, such as multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), were originally planted as food for birds. These omnipresent, invasive species now pose major problems for the survival of many native plants.
Good shrubs with summer berries include juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), elderberries (Sambucus spp.), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), brambles (Rubus spp.), and gooseberries (Ribes spp.). Wild cherry (Prunus serotina), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and devil’s walkingstick (Aralia spinosa) are a few less-common garden plants that are also valuable to birds.
To offer autumn and winter food to birds, plant chokeberries (Aronia spp.), native Viburnum species, dogwoods (Cornus spp.), coralberries and snowberries (Symphoricarpos spp.), winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica).
Good fruiting evergreen species include American holly (Ilex opaca) and inkberry (I. glabra). In warmer climates, possumhaw (I. decidua) and Yaupon holly (I. vomitoria) are also good evergreen choices. The berries of some fall-fruiting shrubs may persist through the winter, providing birds some food in the spring.
The list of small trees that are also excellent food plants includes mountain ash (Sorbus americana), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), and pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia).
If you live in a rural area, with hedgerows and native woods, leave wild plants like sumacs (Rhus spp.), catbriers (Smilax spp.), and even poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Although these plants are not ornamental, they’re important sources of winter food for birds as diverse as warblers, bluebirds, and woodpeckers.
By planting some of these fruitful shrubs and trees, you will help to create a habitat that is beneficial to wildlife, as well as being beautiful.