Attracting birds Birds Native plants

Invite Birds to the Garden With Native Plants

By Julie Boudreau

I do most of my writing for this blog, comfortably seated with a view onto my green and inspiring, beautiful messy garden. I just have to fall into contemplation for a few minutes to see many birds pass by. They stop to feed on the trees and shrubs in my garden.

A Cedar Waxwing impatient to eat the ripe fruits of this serviceberry. Photo: Pixabay

A garden is not just about plants! What a spectacle these birds give me!

Interestingly, the two plants in my garden that are most visited by birds are native plants. No wonder. If some birds have chosen to settle in northern North America for their summer vacations, it is because our flora provides them with enough food that they appreciate.

My Two Bird Magnets

In my garden, it’s staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) which is the big favorite. As soon as the fruits begin to blush, this small tree is visited by both fruit-eating and insect-eating birds. The dense clusters of small, red, hairy fruits also attract many larvae and insects. Thus, the American Robin and the little Black-capped Chickadee visit it regularly. All the little brown birds, like Sparrows, are also occasional visitors. In the fall, colonies of Starlings and Grackles come to stock up, some to prepare for winter, others in view of their great migration.

The fruits of staghorn sumac are enjoyed by many birds. Photo: Daniel Fuchs

The other small tree highly coveted by birds in my garden is the Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). As soon as its fruits turn dark blue, almost black, the berries are devoured by Bohemian Waxwings. Their characteristic hiss gets me out of my daydreaming session and I know that it is in the dogwood that I will find them. In a few days, they gobble up everything there is to eat. And they disappear! But the spectacle of these magnificent birds deserves to be savored!

Serviceberries, Plants with a Thousand Qualities

These same birds will also be happy to devour all the berries of the serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), whether the species in the form of trees (Amelanchier canadensis) or shrub (A. alnifolia). Unfortunately for us, birds like these edible berries just a little less ripe than us. How many times have I seen a beautiful serviceberry tree full of fruit, saying to myself, “tomorrow, I will harvest!”, only to find myself in front of a bare tree at the agreed time? They, the birds, do that with cherries too…

Serviceberries have become, over time, the favorite plant of many gardeners, because of their great hardiness (up to USDA zone 3) and their beauty in all seasons. The plant produces beautiful white flowers, very early in the spring, followed by berries eaten by birds (of course). In the fall, the foliage takes on a beautiful orange color and, in winter, we take advantage of the beautiful gray bark of the trunks. In the form of a single-trunked tree, we will opt for the Canadian serviceberry or the Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), also native to Canada. The alder-leaved serviceberry (A. alnifolia) is a large shrub about 6 feet high that can be installed as a background to the rest of the layout.

The Viburnums, but Not the Ones You Would Think

American cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum) is often emphasized as being a very interesting plant in the diet of birds, but to my knowledge, birds only eat these fruits as a last resort. Indeed, with their “delicious”  taste of goat’s cheese, those fruits persist on the plant until late in winter. It is therefore in the slump of a particularly cold winter that the fruits of this viburnum will form the essential part of the survival diet. However, the other viburnums, in particular the Nannyberry viburnum (Viburnum lentago), are more popular to the winged gent, and this, in late summer when the fruits are fresh and sweet.

In landscaping, viburnums are interesting when in bloom or when fruiting. Most also have very beautiful fall foliage. However, the foliage is often attacked by insects. This is why they are installed a little behind or in the background in the flowerbeds.

Elderberries Attract Beautiful Birds!

The small fruits of elderberries, whether American black elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) or the Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) will also attract dozens of species. They feed quite an amount of uncommon birds, such as the Scarlet Tanager, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Veery or the Red-eyed Vireo. It is therefore a must for seasoned birders! Of course, the American Robin and the Northern Cardinal are also frequent visitors of elderberry bushes.

The American black elderberry produces tiny and very decorative berries… which disappear quickly! Photo: Gilles Ayotte – Wikimedia Commons

Since elderberries are large shrubs, they are interesting leaning against the house or a fence. Care should be taken to grow native species, which are much more reliable than elegant cultivars. Long live simplicity!

Raspberries and black berries (Rubus spp.) cannot be overlooked. These little fruits will also attract many birds (and humans too!). Trees and shrubs with “juicy” fruits are just one of the groups of native plants capable of attracting birds to the yard. Other plants, producing dry fruits, will be more interesting for seed-eating birds. Then there are all those who provide shelter and materials to build nests.

Bird-watching is a natural extension of gardening as is knowledge of insects or butterflies. Native plants contribute to the creation of microhabitats coveted by this life that we want to contemplate again and again!

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

2 comments on “Invite Birds to the Garden With Native Plants

  1. Hawthorne species are another favourite of waxwings. They are worth their weight in gold in the garden. Smallish trees they offer beautiful white flowers in Spring, a nice form with dark green leaves through summer and brilliant yellow and orange foliage in Fall with dark red haws. When the waxwings move through during migration the garden is alive with their unusual twittering and frantic eating. We have several of these beautiful trees just to bring in more waxwings.

  2. Christine Lemieux

    I just planted 4 Viburnum trillium. I am focusing on berries for wildlife right now. Hmmm….I will check out the viburnum you mentioned! I tasted a berry off of my serviceberry for the first time. Delicious! But I left them for the birds. Loved this article.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: