By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Now that fall is here, most gardeners, myself included, are clearing out undergrowth and unwanted vegetation around their garden and homes. However, what we may not want may be wanted, and even needed, during the winter months by wildlife.
For instance, cherries, whether wild or planted, provide food for about 70 different species of song and game birds. Crabapples supply food for birds, particularly the purple finch, blue jay, northern oriole, cedar waxwing, and robin.
White cedars, so prevalent in Vermont, are an excellent source of food and shelter for many birds. They eat the seeds, and in winter, the evergreen branches provide cover, a place to escape the fierce winter winds.
Brambles, especially blackberries and raspberries that are a good food source for birds and small animals in summer, also provide a protective haven for wildlife in the winter. Alders, one of the first trees to reappear on land that has been cleared and allowed to regrow, offer twigs and buds for munching by beavers and rabbits, and a protective cover for these animals, as well as grouse.
Most people are familiar with the red-osier dogwood. This native twiggy shrub is found growing along streams and in abandoned fields and has brilliant scarlet stems in mid-winter.
It provides browsing for deer, bear, beaver, and rabbit. Many species of birds enjoy its bluish-black fruit, found in clusters on the ends of the stems. Ruffed grouse, pheasant, and wild turkeys especially like it. Its low growing branches provide good cover for many of these birds.
Many other plants are useful to wildlife for food and cover. Deer will browse on the ironwood tree, maples, and what is perhaps their most favorite, the mountain ash. The hophornbeam, another native tree, has fruits in the fall that are a secondary food for grouse. In winter, the tree buds are this bird's primary food.
And who hasn't seen squirrels gathering acorns from oak trees for winter? Not only squirrels, but other game animals and mammals eat acorns, as well as the small red fruits of the low growing partridgeberry.
So, this fall as you clean up some of the brush around your yard, why
not leave some for the wildlife this winter. They'll be glad you did.