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Plants and Shrubs that Attract Birds

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It takes more than a feeder and a birdbath to make your yard truly bird-friendly. Birds need a complete habitat that provides food, shelter, nesting areas, and singing posts from which to defend their territories.

A Bird Pantry

Birds get their food not only from the fruits of plants but from their buds, flowers, and nectar. You may want to select plants that provide food in each of these ways.

Select plants to provide food for birds in every season. Fruits ripen in different seasons. Plants with spring-ripening fruits that feed new parent birds include serviceberries, wild cherries, and mulberries. In fall, migrating birds look for the fatty, ripening fruits of spicebush, magnolia, sassafras, and flowering dogwood. Other plants bear fruits that persist through the winter providing an important source of nutrients when the ground is covered with snow. These plants include nannyberry, sumac, hawthorn, and crabapple.

Not all berries are consumed by all bird species. In some cases, fruits may be too large for a bird to swallow. Use a diversity of plant species to attract more birds.

Concentrate on Native Plants

Emphasize native trees, shrubs, and vines. Native plants and birds have evolved side-by-side over thousands of years. Native plants are more likely to provide the right mix, size, and nutritional values that birds in our area require.

By incorporating native habitats into our landscapes, we create natural corridors for birds to pass back and forth through their natural ranges. This is especially important for areas that have been impacted by development.

Avoid exotic, invasive species. Some exotic species, like buckthorn or Japanese honeysuckle, provide abundant fruit for birds; however, they tend to crowd out native species over time, robbing birds and other animals of the diverse mix of plants needed for food and shelter.

Take a Cue From Nature

Plant in drifts. If you look to nature, you’ll discover that in the wild, plants usually occur in groups. This promotes cross-pollination, boosts fertility (and, therefore, fruit yield), and makes it easier for migrating birds to spot ripening fruits.

Consider vertical layers. Natural areas tend to have vertical layers, each attracting and providing something important to different bird species. Some birds prefer the canopy of tall trees. Others perch in the understory trees. Many build nests in shrubs, while still others find shelter and nesting materials in vines and ground covers. Try to create as many of these layers as possible in your backyard bird refuge.

Plant at least one grouping of conifers. These plants provide year-round windbreaks, shelter, and nesting sites.

Leave a dead tree or some dead branches on living trees. As long as the branches or tree aren’t in danger of falling on people, buildings, or power lines, these make excellent perches and singing posts for birds. Many birds also like to nest in the cavities of dead trees or branches.

 

Botanical/Common Name: Plant Appeal

(*indicates plant native to the Midwest;  **indicates some species native to Midwest and some not)

  • Acer species**/maple: Seeds that ripen in fall, often persisting into winter; buds; sap; insects on foliage; nesting site.
  • Betula nigra*/river birch: Seeds; flower buds; insects on foliage.
  • Celtis occidentalis*/common hackberry: Fruits ripen in late summer, often persisting through winter; nesting site; shelter.
  • Larix decidua/European larch: Cones; shelter; nesting site.
  • Prunus maackii/amur cherry: Fruits ripen in August.
  • Prunus serotina*/wild black cherry: Fruits ripen in August-September.
  • Quercus species**/oak: Acorns; insects; shelter; nesting site.
  • Taxodium distichum*/bald cypress: Seeds; shelter.
  • Tilia americana*/American linden: Seeds; shelter.
  • Ulmus species/elm: Flowers; seeds; shelter.

Botanical/Common Name: Plant Appeal

(*indicates plant native to the Midwest;  **indicates some species native to Midwest and some not)

  • Amelanchier species*/serviceberry: Fruits available June to August.
  • Carpinus caroliniana*/American hornbeam: Nutlets; shelter
  • Cornus alternifolia*/pagoda dogwood: Fruits ripen in July-August and do not persist long.
  • Cornus mas/cornelian-cherry dogwood: Fruits ripen in July.
  • Crataegus species**/hawthorn: Fruits ripen in fall and persist until spring; insects on foliage; winter.
  • Malus species**/flowering crabapple: Fruit; nesting site.
  • Ostrya virginiana*/ironwood, hop-hornbeam: Seeds; shelter.
  • Prunus virginiana*/common chokecherry: Fruits; flower buds.
  • Sorbus aucuparia/European mountain ash: Fruit ripens in late August into September, usually eaten by birds before winter.
  • Syringa reticulata/Japanese tree lilac: Seeds.

Botanical/Common Name: Plant Appeal

(*indicates plant native to the Midwest;  **indicates some species native to Midwest and some not)

  • Juniperus species**/juniper: Fruit; shelter; nesting site.
  • Picea abies/Norway spruce: Cones; shelter; nesting site.
  • Picea glauca/white spruce: Cones; shelter; nesting site.
  • Pinus strobus*/white pine: Cones on trees 10+ years old; shelter; nesting site.
  • Taxus cuspidata/Japanese yew: Fruit ripens in August-November; nesting site; shelter.
  • Thuja occidentalis*/eastern arborvitae: Cones; shelter; nesting site.
  • Thuja plicata/western arborvitae: Cones; shelter; nesting site.
  • Tsuga canadensis / eastern hemlock: Cones; shelter; nesting site.

Botanical/Common Name: Plant Appeal

(*indicates plant native to the Midwest;  **indicates some species native to Midwest and some not)

  • Cephalanthus occidentalis*/button bush: Nutlets persist through winter.
  • Cornus racemosa*/gray dogwood: Fruit ripens July through October and persist into early winter; shelter; nesting site.
  • Cotoneaster multiflora/showy cotoneaster: Fruit; shelter.
  • Euonymus atropurpureus*/wahoo: Seeds.
  • Hamamelis vernalis/vernal witch-hazel: Seeds released in September-October.
  • Hamamelis virginiana*/common witch-hazel: Seeds.
  • Ilex decidua*/possum-haw: Fruit matures in autumn and persists through winter; nesting site.
  • Rhus glabra*/smooth sumac: Fruit ripens in later summer and persists into winter; shelter.
  • Rhus typhina*/staghorn sumac: Fruit ripens in August –September and persists into spring; shelter.
  • Sambucus canadensis*/common elderberry: Fruit ripens July-September; nesting site.
  • Viburnum dentatum*/arrowwood viburnum: Fruit ripens late August-November; cover; nesting.
  • Viburnum lentago*/nannyberry viburnum: Fruit ripens September-October, often persisting into December; nesting; cover.
  • Viburnum prunifolium*/black-haw viburnum: Fruit ripens in early fall; nesting site; shelter.
  • Viburnum opulus var. americanum*/American cranberrybush wiburnum: Fruit ripens in early September and persists through February.

Botanical/Common Names: Plant Appeal

(*indicates plant native to the Midwest;  **indicates some species native to Midwest and some not)

  • Aronia arbutifolia*/red chokeberry: Fruit ripens September-November and persists into January.
  • Berberis koreana/Korean barberry: Berries ripen in fall and persist into winter; shelter.
  • Clethra alnifolia/summersweet clethra: Seeds persist through winter.
  • Cornus sericea*/red-osier dogwood: Fruit ripens in summer; shelter.
  • Corylus americana*/American hazelnut: Seeds mature September-October.
  • Hibiscus syriacus/Rose-of-Sharon: Seeds persist through winter.
  • Ilex verticillata*/common winterberry: Fruits ripen in fall and persist into winter.
  • Lindera benzoin*/spicebush: High fat content fruits ripen July-October and are quickly eaten by birds.
  • Myrica pensylvanica/bayberry: Fruits persist into winter; shelter.

 

Botanical/Common Name: Plant Appeal

(*indicates plant native to the Midwest;  **indicates some species native to Midwest and some not)

  • Amorpha canescens*/leadplant: Seeds persist into winter.
  • Cotoneaster horizontalis/rock cotoneaster: Fruits ripen August-September.
  • Hypericum prolificum*/shrubby St. John’s wort: Seeds persist all winter.
  • Rhus aromatica*/ fragrant sumac: Berries ripen August-September and may persist into winter although they usually lose their bird-attracting color.
  • Ribes alpinum/alpine currant: Fruits ripen in June-July on female plants.
  • Rosa rugosa/rugosa rose: Fruit ripens in August, often persisting into winter.
  • Rubus allegheniensis*/wild blackberry: Berries ripen from late August into fall.
  • Symphoricarpos orbiculatus*/coralberry: Berries ripen in October, persisting late into winter.