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Plants that Bird Love

Perennials. When selecting showy perennials, consider their seed production and their appeal to hummingbirds for nectar. Some perennials good for birdseed are columbine (Aquilegia), zones 3-10; coreopsis (Coreopsis), zones 3-10; purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), zones 3-10; California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), zones 8-10; and goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), zones 3-10. These are hummingbird favorites: columbine, zones 3-10; red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria), zones 5-10; cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), zones 2-9; bee balm (Monarda didyma), zones 4-10; penstemon (Penstemon), zones 3-10, depending on species; orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida), zones 3-10; and salvia (Salvia), zones 5-10, depending on species.

Skyline Trees (taller than 50 feet). In a large backyard, you may be fortunate to have space for a skyline tree. These provide a canopy of food and shelter: American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), zone 6; black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), zone 5; black cherry (Prunus serotina), zones 4-8; and white oak (Quercus alba), zone 5.

Annuals. Choose annuals with abundant seeds, especially those in the sunflower family, to lure songbirds such as goldfinches and house finches. Let the flowers stay on the plants to set seeds.

Among the bird-feeding annuals that flourish throughout the country in summer gardens are ageratum, amaranth (Amaranthus), China aster (Callistephus chinensis), basket flower (Centaurea americana), bachelor’s-button (Centaurea cyanus), calendula, celosia, coreopsis, cosmos, sunflower (Helianthus annus), sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), marigold (Tagetes erecta), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), and zinnia.

Large Trees (25 to 50 feet tall). Plant these large trees for cover and fruit: common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), zones 2-9; cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli), zone 5; common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), zone 5; red mulberry (Morus rubra), zone 6; sassafras (Sassafras albidum), zones 5-8; American mountain ash (Sorbus americana), zones 3-8; and coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), attractive for acorns, zone 9.

Small Shrubs (up to 10 feet tall). Small shrubs are useful in multilevel plantings as a transition from ground covers to trees. These provide both food and cover: Inkberry (Ilex glabra), zones 5-9; fruit-bearing junipers (Juniperus), zone 3, depending on species; northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), zone 2; common chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), zones 3-8; currant and gooseberry (Ribes), zone 2, depending on species; wild rose (Rosa virginiana), zones 4-9; and coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), zones 3-9.

Hedges. Hedges furnish both food and protective cover, including nesting places. Birds prefer informal, unclipped hedges with fruit. Choose plants that form attractive shapes naturally so you won’t have to prune frequently. When you do prune, wait until after the fruit has been eaten.

Check the shrub list, above, for plants to use in hedges. A mix of several types of shrubs in a hedgerow is more effective than using one type of plant for the entire hedge.

Needle-Leafed Evergreens. Large con provide year-round cover, buffering winter cold and summer heat. They also provide seed and create nesting places. Some of the best are arborvitae (Thuja), hemlocks (Tsuga), firs (Abies), spruces (Picea), and pines (Pinus). Berry-producing junipers (Juniperus) also attract, feed, and shelter birds.

Small Trees and Large Shrubs (up to 25 feet tall). For bird-attracting fruit, plant the following: serviceberry (Amelanchier), zone 3, depending on species; hawthorn (Crataegus), zone 5; desert olive (Forestiera neomexicana), zone 7; dogwood (Cornus), zone 2, depending on species; toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), zone 8;holly (Ilex); juniper; sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii), zones 4-8; American plum (Prunus americana), zone 6;American elderberry (Sambucas canadensis), zones 4-9; Sitka moutain ash (Sorbus sitchensis), zone 5; andviburnum (Viburnum), zone 2, depending on species.

Vines. Clusters of tangled vines provide hiding and nesting places for birds. Depending on the variety, they also provide nectar, fruits, seeds, and insects. Two hummingbird favorites are trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), hardy to zone 5, and trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), hardy to zone 4. Vines attractive for fruit includesupplejack (Berchemia scandens), zone 6; Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), zone 4; and grape (Vitis), zone 3, depending on species.

Ground Covers. Low ground covers enliven the floor of the bird garden while providing bird food and cover. Choose from these low-growers (less than 12 inches high): bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), zones 2-8; wild strawberry (Fragaria), zone 5; wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), zone 4; and cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), zones 2-6.

Brambles. This is a large genus (Rubus) of usually thorny shrubs, including raspberries and blackberries. Many native brambles are popular fruit crops, and their prickly, dense growth provides protection and nesting places for a variety of birds including indigo buntings, cardinals, yellow warblers, towhees, and sparrows.

Other Habitat Features

Dead Trees. Retain a standing dead tree if it’s not in danger of falling. Snags, as they are called, provide nesting cavities for birds such as woodpeckers.

Ponds. In addition to providing water for birds, a small garden pond is excellent habitat for aquatic plants and other wildlife, including frogs and turtles. Locate the pond about 5 to 15 feet from protective cover.

Brush Piles. Birds and other wildlife will seek cover, food, and sometimes nesting places in a brush pile. Instead of hauling off your tree trimmings, create a brush pile (mixed with rocks and stones) in an out-of-sight corner of your property.

Meadows. A meadow of annual and perennial wildflowers, low-growing shrubs, and native grasses is a certain bird lure.