If you want to attract beautiful birds to your garden, feeders won’t suffice. You’ll also need to grow plants with berries.
By Larry Hodgson
Bird feeders are great for attracting seed-eating birds like chickadees, mourning doves, starlings, and sparrows. And of course, hummingbird feeders will attract hummingbirds. But there is a whole group of birds that most feeders just don’t reach: frugivorous or fruit-eating birds.
This group, which includes robins, mockingbirds, thrashers, tanagers, orioles, waxwings, and others, are particularly fond of berries and other small fruits. They also eat insects, especially during the summer, because that’s what they feed their young and thus need extra protein, but when the brood is gone, they start to look for fruit to eat again. If you can supply the berries they want, you’ll be able to draw them into your yard.
In the wild, wild berries abound: on the edges of fields, in clearings in woods, along streams, etc. In cities, though, more space is given over to asphalt and concrete than berry bushes and fruit trees. And in suburbs, the ever-present “green lawn” creates a bird desert that only a few worm-eating species will visit. But it’s easy enough to change that! Just integrate some of the following plants into your landscaping and you’ll see. To paraphrase the movie Field of Dreams, “if you plant them, they will come.”
A major plus is that berries are ornamental too, plus many of these plants offer beautiful flowers and often attractive foliage too, green in summer and brilliantly colorful in fall. Of course, many are also delicious … but you have a decision to make here: if you choose to harvest the berries yourself, you won’t attract birds!
Here are some fruit-producing plants—shrubs, trees, perennials and climbers—that birds love and are well worth trying in a temperate climate:
- Actaea spp. (baneberry)
- Actindia spp. (kiwi)
- Amelancher spp. (serviceberry)
- Ampelopsis spp. (porcelain vine)
- Arctostaphylos spp. (bearberry)
- Aronia spp. (chokeberry)
- Asparagus spp. (asparagus)
- Berberis spp. (barberry)
- Callicarpa spp. (beautyberry)
- Celastrus spp. (bittersweet)
- Chaenomeles spp. (Japanese quince)
- Cornus spp. (dogwood)
- Cotoneaster spp. (cotoneaster)
- Crataegus spp. (hawthorn)
- Elaeagnus spp. (Russian olive, silverberry)
- Empetrum spp. (crowberry)
- Euonymus spp. (euonymus, burning bush)
- Fragaria spp. (strawberry)
- Gaultheria spp. (wintergreen)
- Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn)
- Ilex spp. (holly)
- Juniperus spp. (juniper)
- Lonicera spp. (honeysuckle)
- Lycium barbarum (goji)
- Mahonia spp. (Oregon grape)
- Malus spp. (crabapple)
- Menispermum spp. (moonseed)
- Mitchella repens (partridge berry)
- Morus spp. (mulberry)
- Myrica spp. (bayberry)
- Nandina domestica (sacred bamboo, heavenly bamboo)
- Parthenocissus spp. (Boston ivy, Virginia creeper)
- Physocarpus spp. (ninebark)
- Phytolacca americana (pokeweed)
- Prunus spp. (cherry, chokecherry, plum, etc.)
- Pyracantha spp. (burning bush)
- Rhus spp. (sumac)
- Ribes spp. (currant, gooseberry)
- Rosa spp. (rose)
- Rubus spp. (blackberry, raspberry)
- Sambucus spp. (elderberry)
- Skimmia spp. (skimmia)
- Smilax spp. (sarsaparilla)
- Solanum spp. (tomato, bittersweet nightshade)
- Sorbus spp. (mountain ash, rowan)
- Symphoricarpos spp. (coralberry, snowberry)
- Vaccinium spp. (blueberry, lingonberry, cranberry)
- Viburnum spp. (viburnum)
- Viscum spp. (mistletoe)
- Vitis spp. (grape)
Text based on an article originally published in this blog on September 17, 2015.
Pingback: Visiting Gardens and Nurseries!
Pingback: Do Birds Like Barberry Bushes | Trees And Shrubs That Attract Birds All Answers - Tw.taphoamini.com
Thanks for a wonderful article – this is a great reference. I’m not pro-invasive species but I do appreciate the complete list you provided. The fact of the matter is that in many areas species such as Burning Bush already exist. The builder of our home planted it here in the 1970’s and he did the same thing throughout the entire development to hide above ground utility boxes. The electric company cuts it down in order to service the boxes but it always grows back. It’s here to stay and there isn’t much we can do about it. People didn’t know these things back then. At least it provides winter berries for the birds. Also, look at Mackinac Island in Michigan – “old timers” there planted tons (and I mean tons) of Ivy, Pachysandra, Creeping Myrtle, Honeysuckle, and Sweet Woodruff. They loved their creeping ground covers and climbing vines and there isn’t anything anyone can do about that now – it already exists there and has for at least 60 years. It’s just part of the landscape be it good or bad. Regardless, we still need to know the positives of such plants, especially if they can’t be removed.
Most of these do not produce fruit here, and some are not even grown here. Flowering quince produces rather large fruits that look like small versions of normal quince. There are only a few, and the birds are not interested in them. They probably do not get enough chill to develop color that would attract birds. Mulberries are not commonly grown here, but a few used to live on perimeters of some of the orchards to either distract birds from eating the ripening fruits within the orchards, or attract birds that would chase away the birds that would want the orchard fruit. (I suppose that some birds that ate mulberries did not eat apricots or prunes, and some birds that ate apricots and prunes did not eat mulberries.) The fruit ripened within a limited time, but not as limited as the fruit in the orchards. If it started a bit earlier, or lasted a bit later, that would be fine. It just needed to be there when the desirable fruit was ripe.
Second post attempt not sure what happened to the first? There are a number of very ecologically costly exotic invasive species on this list. All gardeners should get the binomial scientific names for plants, and google that plus “invasive” and “native to”. If it is not reported invasive in your area, look to see if it is invasive in a similar climate. More than birds use plants. Caterpillars (baby food for 96% of songbird’s chicks) depend on many very specific native plants. They can’t just change to another plant. So if you love birds, you might take a course on gardening for birds. More than just food is needed for birds to complete their life cycles. Feeders bring birds together in unusual ways permitting disease transmission. Given how little we really know about birds and the insects they rely on, the safest option is to plant native plants. There are other problems with invasive species. Some, like barberry, non-native honeysuckle, burning bush, etc. are forestry problems, preventing regeneration. Gardeners can be a positive impact on their local ecology with their plantings. Invasive plant create community wide problems and drive maintenance and food costs up. It is a “growing” problem that gets bigger every year.
I am deeply grieved that you included a number of well documented invasive species of plants on this list. Plants are fundamental to more than just birds…non-native plants do not serve birds’ most important source of nutrition…insects, especially lepidopterans…these caterpillars are food for young birds of 96% of the songbirds. Exotic plants cannot be used by most caterpillars. PLEASE correct yourself, or if not, readers need to plug each plant name into google plus the word invasive. Consider if it is invasive in your area, and if you don’t find that, look to see if it is invasive in areas of similar climate. Invasive species make growing OUR food harder and more expensive too. Invasive plants create community problems too…the safest approach for the highest food value is to go native. That way, the insects and other animals we know depend on those plants will not be diminished in numbers. The cause of failed migration in the Midwest in 2020 pointed to birds that left their home grounds in a malnourished state. Gardeners can help prevent ecological problems by carefully choosing what they plant, and making room for native plants. We have done this for 17 years and have amazing birds and butterflies/moths of many species. The Cornell Ornithological Institute has a great course on gardening for birds that features my husband and my work. I recommend it, because birds need more than just food. Don’t feel bad for not knowing this…just act on it. 🙂 Thank you.
I do know about this, but this blog is read nearly as much in England as in the New World. I cannot put individual notes on every single plant to indicate which is invasive where. Info here: https://laidbackgardener.blog/2021/07/17/what-is-an-invasive-plant/
Thank you…this is why I tried to lay out a strategy for someone reading this to “know thy plant” first before planting it.
We have lots of berry bushes with fruit that usually lasts well into Fall. Due to our drought this summer the birds were voracious and cleaned everything out even before it ripened. Guess they are asking for more berry bushes please.
Thankyou. Great review. Please consider adding in parentheses the plants considered invasive. E.g., Ontario invasive plant council’s list or remind readers in key areas of your article, to not plant items on their local invasive list. Burning Bush is on that list as is some of the honeysuckle.
Read this blog article and you’ll see why that just isn’t possible. https://laidbackgardener.blog/2021/07/17/what-is-an-invasive-plant/ I don’t think there even exists one berry plant for birds anywhere in the world that isn’t potentially invasive somewhere.
I love to wake up to your posts in my mailbox in the morning while I have my coffee and watch the birds on my berry bushes. I was disappointed though to see some invasive plants on this list like burning bush, porcelain vine and barberry. May I respectfully suggest the list be updated?
I’m sorry, but I cannot do that and this is why: https://laidbackgardener.blog/2021/07/17/what-is-an-invasive-plant/
Great – thank you.