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Gardening for the Birds

robin eating evergreen berries

Any tree or plant will supply birds with places to perch and hide. Densely growing evergreens offer berries and are especially welcome refuges during cold winter nights. Wait until spring to cut back your perennials and let small piles of fall leaves remain on the edges of your yard to encourage some insects to collect and be food for birds in spring. Keep in mind that the more natural your yard is, the more inviting it will be to birds. The less lawn and the more flowers, bushes and trees you have, the better. To protect the birds' health, you can reduce the use of pesticides since many birds eat insects from lawns.

To maximize your yard as a bird sanctuary, plant a variety of trees and bushes that bear seeds and fruit at different times throughout the year. I will just mention a few:

1. A cherry tree would be great for summer eating along with fruit bushes such as raspberry or blueberry.

2. Wild grapevines have a rough bark that is good for spring nest building and they have hiding places with tasty fruit popular with many birds. Just watch that the vines don't go crazy and grow up your trees because they can eventually weigh them down.

ornamental grass

squirrel reaching for crabapple

3. A number of ornamental grasses (above left) with seed heads and elderberry are useful in the fall .

4. Holly, bayberry, chokecherry and sumac shrubs and crabapple trees provide much needed winter fruit. The holly bush at our former house looked festive in the snow and the fruit on the crabapple tree at our current house (above right) is completely consumed by wildlife by January.


Many colorful flowers offer nectar for hummingbirds and other blooms provide seeds that a variety of birds will eat. Most of them require full sun. Plant them in showy bunches to make it easy for birds to spot them from a distance.

bee balm for hummingbirds

1. Bee Balm (above) is a spiked mid-height flower that draws hummingbirds and likes to spread.

black eyed susan seeds for birds 3. The Black Eyed Susan (left) is similar to the Purple Coneflower in that it is a hardy perennial that fills in nicely and provides seeds for birds later on. Ours grew well with just afternoon sun if I watered it only at the base of the plant, reducing black spotting on the leaves.

4. Sunflowers are popular with a variety of birds, especially flowers that produce black oil seeds, which are easier than the striped seeds for birds to open. Our 6 to 7 ft. high plants had to be propped up with large stakes as they became very top heavy before the seeds matured. We were selfish with half our seeds, harvesting them quickly for ourselves before the birds could devour them because they were irresistibly tender and fresh.

5. Try a Butterfly Bush or Buddleia if you have a large area to fill and want to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. You will get many bright blooms towering overhead. Cut back branches by late fall and cover it with several inches of mulch during the winter if you live in a zone 5 or colder climate.

zinnia seed for birds

6. Zinnias provide an easy to grow vibrant 1 ft. high carpet with large blooms that attract hummingbirds and provide seeds for other birds.

fuchsia for hummingbirds 7. If you have a shaded area, hang a basket of fuchsia for hummingbirds to probe for nectar.

When I visited a garden in Colorado, I noticed a hummingbird quite taken with a Hummingbird Trumpet (or Orange Carpet) plant (lower left), then it gravitated toward a Southern Charm Mullein (lower right). hummer probing hummingbird trumpet (also called orange carpet) southern charm mullein

The hummingbird was so busy feeding that I didn't think it minded my presence until it hovered, made me uneasy as it stared me down, then it quickly veered toward another area.

hummingbird annoyed by my presence


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