Top 5 Plants for Birds in Gardens

By Teo Spengler | November 11, 2017
Image by Nikki Tiley
by Teo Spengler
November 11, 2017

When you close your eyes and imagine paradise, it may very well be filled with flowers and birdsong. You can attract birds to your own beautiful garden by including plants that nourish your feathered friends and provide them shelter. Here are the top 5 plants to get you started. But remember that the best plants for birds always depend on where you live. Whenever you can, select trees and shrubs native to your region, since they’ll need less care than outsiders and please the local wildlife.

1. Conifers – Look for evergreen trees that grow naturally in your area. Pines will please the brown-headed nuthatches and pine warblers. Or plant spruce, fir or juniper. All of these offer fine nesting spots, as well as protection and food. Some birds, like northern finches, make conifer cone seeds a staple in their diet. Even a few hummingbird species chow down on both sap and bugs from conifer branch tips.

If Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) thrives in your region, it’s an excellent choice. This cone-shaped tree provides top-notch shelter for birds. Female trees offer abundant berry-like cones that last on the branches through the winter. That means many a dinner for waxwings and other bird species.

2. Deciduous berry plants – Just be because deciduous trees lose leaves in winter, it doesn’t mean that can’t serve as shelter and offer food for local birds. Almost anything native will do just fine, but a few species are far better than fine. Try any shrub from the Cornus family and your birds will sing with joy. Red-osier dogwood and gray dogwood, for example, are hardy, easy-care shrubs with high-fat fruit in autumn. You’ll attract lots of species like robins, wild turkey, bluebirds, grouse, thrush, catbirds, kingbirds, juncos, cardinals and warblers.

Nannyberry and arrowwood shrubs (Viburnum) also offer fall berries that last through winter. These are great plants for nesting sites. Or go for other trees offering autumn fruit that fatten up birds before the cold winter, like mountain ash, cotoneasters or buffalo-berries.

Plants that hold onto their fruits into the winter provide for birds when they need it most. Both winter residents and early-returning migrant birds will benefit. These include:

3. Nut trees – Trees that produce nuts are also good choices, feeding small mammals as well as birds like jays, turkeys and woodpeckers. Many nut tree are beautiful and stately, like oaks, hickories, chestnuts, walnuts and beeches. They’ll add to the food supply in spring too, when insects, attracted to their spring flowers, become food for spring-migrating birds.

4. Grasses – Birds do not appreciate closely trimmed lawns. Let some wild grasses grow somewhere in your backyard. These “weeds” provide shelter for ground-nesting birds as well as seeds for many species.

5. Flowering plants – And don’t forget flowering plants that produce nectar. Anything with blossoms sporting tubular red corollas are attractive to hummingbirds as well as orioles. The insects drawn to the flowers also serve as food for many birds.

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