Gardening: Attracting birds with garden plants
Fall weather brings thoughts of attracting birds to gardens. This is also the ideal time to add trees and shrubs to landscapes--so why not consider plants to attract birds? Of the hundred or more different kinds of birds common in the Northwest, a surprising variety can be seen in yards and gardens, especially in those with the sorts of trees, shrubs and flowers that appeal to them.
Birds need places to nest, rest, and hide, as well as places to feed. They prefer a choice of places for these activities, from the crowns of tall trees to low growing flowers and grasses. They obviously also would like a choice of foods, such as seeds fruits, berries, and even flower nectar. Installing plants to provide this choice will attract birds and many of them will likely be species which combine plant foods with the insects that also feed on plants. Be sure also to provide sources of water year-round.
A variety of different plants will attract many birds. Many native as well as introduced plants can provide attractive foods and places for birds to conduct their activities while at the same time giving your landscape more color, texture, and interesting form.
Not all plants are in flower or fruit at the same time. By using species with different flowering or fruiting periods, it should be possible to have a succession of flowers and bird foods throughout a good part of the year. A good reference book can help to check up on these plants. Try the Sunset Western Garden Book. You can also get lists of bird-attracting plants from your local audubon Society or from the Department of Wildlife, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Bothell, Washington 98012.
The various species of hawthorns (Crataegus) are quite ornamental and attractive to many different birds. The same can be said of crabapples (Malus). Both of these are are ornamental in flower as well as in fruit.
Firethorns (Pyracantha) and Stranvaesia, two widely-available evergreen shrubs which berry up heavily and maintain their crop through much of the winter, can be a very important source of food to those birds migrating back into the area in spring. Cedar waxwings and robins seem to be particularly partial to their fruit.
Cascara (Rhamnus) do not produce much in the way of showy flowers, but their shiny black fruit seems to be the favorite of many birds. Our native species, Rhamnus purshiana, is an attractive small tree which also seems to host a number of insects which in turn are fed upon by birds.
Dogwoods (Cornus), both the shrubby and tree species, are not only ornamental in flower and fruit, but they are great plants for fall and winter color. Their red, white or blue fruits, many bunched or clustered, can be tempting to over forty species of birds.
Hollies (Ilex) are evergreen shrubs and trees that produce an abundance of berries which also persist through much of the winter. Hollies are available with red, yellow or black fruit, but because they carry male flowers and female flowers on different plants, you'll need at least one male around to pollinate the females.
Elderberries (Sambucus) are smallish trees which, depending on the species, can provide your birds with red, black or blue berries. One of our natives, Sambucus caerulea, has most attractive large, flat clusters of blue berries and is a choice ornamental as well as a source of food for birds.
Cherries (Prunus) will definitely attract birds to your garden. All kinds of cherries will bring in birds, but wild cherries like Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), Bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata), and the wild black cherry of the east (Prunus serotina) do not have disease problems like sweet cherries do. Besides, since these are not generally palatable to humans, you won't be tempted to compete with the birds for the crop. The fruit of the cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) and Prunus lusitanica) is also good bird food and both species, since they are densely foliaged evergreens, provide good cover for the birds the year around. These are often clipped into hedges but can be grown up into tree forms.
Currants and gooseberries (Ribes), Cotoneasters, Oregon Grape (Mahonia), Serviceberry (Amelanchier), Juniper (Juniperus), Snowberry (Symphoricarpos), Madrone (Arbutus menzieslii), Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), Viburnums, Privets (Ligus-trum), Photinias, and roses (with a fruit called "hips") are other woody plants whose fruit are eaten by birds; there are of course many more.
Hummingbirds can be attracted in summer with Fuchsias, Salvia, Monarda, Penstemon, Nicotiana, and Impatiens.
Seed-eating birds all like sunflower seeds and a plant or two of this species should attract plenty of them. Allowing annuals and perennials to set seeds will draw in birds. A wonderful garden sight in late summer is a chickadee perched on a head of dahlia seeds!