Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
As you sit by the fire or woodstove on a cold, wintry day huddled over colorful garden catalogs or books, think of the poor birds outdoors having to fend for food and shelter. Make plans now for this coming season which take into consideration your featured friends.
When choosing and placing plants for the birds, or "birdscaping", provide for their food and shelter year round. Plants for cover include dense ones with many twigs providing nest sites, plants of various heights, and groups of conifers for roosting and protection from winter winds. Mounds and thickets, thorned plants, perches and bird observation towers, wild areas, brambles and vines, and seed plots all provide attraction and protection for birds.
One of my favorites, providing both fruits and excellent year-round cove, is the white cedar. It is often seen near home foundations and windows where birds can be easily viewed. Just leave plenty of room, as these trees can grow quite large. Further out in the yard is a grove of balsams which my finches love.
Many plants can attract and provide feed for birds in your landscape. The hummingbird is attracted to many flowers, especially tubular ones, such as single petunia, bee balm, and many impatiens. Even some woody plants when in bloom attract them, such as rhododendron and honeysuckle.
Corn, wheat and weeds such as ragweed, crabgrass, chickweed and pigweed attract mourning doves. Fruits of maple, mountain ash, Russian olive, and sumac attract evening grosbeaks.
The beautiful red cardinal is attracted to berries of sumac, viburnum, and ash. Berries from the bayberry, red cedar, wild cherry, and Japanese honeysuckle are eaten by bluebirds. Cedar waxwings also eat berries from red cedar, as well as viburnum, ash, and privet.
When choosing plants for birds, keep in mind the season they bear fruits. Plants with summer fruits include several viburnums, red cedar, raspberry, blueberry, and mulberry. For fruits later into the fall consider oaks, inkberry, bayberry, crabapples, hawthorn, sumac, mountain ash, spruces, pines, white cedar, and snowberry. For winter fruits there are crabapples with their persistent fruits, red cedar, white cedar, honeysuckle, birch, and spreading cotoneaster. Spreading cotoneaster and red cedar are also good for spring fruits, as well as Washington hawthorn.
Barberry, while a good year round fruit for birds, sometimes is also spread by them making them seed invasive in natural areas. For this reason it is no longer recommended nor planted by many. Similarly, honeysuckles can become invasive so are another bird plant no longer recommended by some.
When birdscaping, choose the proper plants for the proper site to reduce future maintenance and have a good chance of success. Avoid overplanting. Consider the mature height and spacing for each type of plant, and the specific plant requirements for factors such as light, water, and soil.
Also choose a mix of plants to provide interest in all seasons. You may use them to screen undesirable sights or to frame good ones.
Don't forget a source of water, such as from water feature, small pond, or bird bath. You may want to even install a heated birdbath now. There are a couple kinds-- those with a heating element built in, and those with a separate element you place in a birdbath. These plug into ordinary outdoor outlets. Just make sure the cords you use, and outlets, are the correct ones and safe for outdoor use. Even moving or sprinkling water is good, and it may attract more birds than stationary water.
One estimate by ornithologists is that an acre of land will support an average of four birds in the eastern United States. By birdscaping, you may be able to provide for many more birds on your land year round.