As the weather cools thoughts turn to the seasons ahead. Autumn and winter are challenging seasons for birds as they search for food to fuel their long journey south or to help them survive the harsh winter. At this time of year many people ready feeding stations to help the birds in their struggles. Their reward is a vibrant array of colourful backyard visitors. However, not all birds will visit feeders. Some thoughtful planting can help you attract and aid those species whose needs are not met through feeders.
Fruits and berries are rich in vitamins and carbohydrates. The fatty fruits of fall help migrating birds build their fat reserves to provide energy for their journey. Berries that persist into winter help remaining birds survive our harshest season. The last of the berries are a lifesaver for early returning migrants when a late snowfall prevents them from finding a meal of insects and worms under rotting leaves.
Rich crops of berries can bring in brilliant flocks of waxwings, robins, warblers, vireos, or tanagers. Once the berries are gone though, the birds will also disappear, so be sure to provide a variety of different berries. Choose plants, such as dogwoods, that produce tasty berries devoured by fall migrants. However, be sure to add shrubs, such as highbush cranberry, whose berries are left until later. The fruits of these shrubs are rather tart to begin but soften and become tastier after several freeze and thaw cycles. As food sources dwindle these berries help birds survive the winter. Those berries least favoured are the ones that will be essential food sources come early spring.
In selecting fruiting shrubs for your garden, favour those native to your area. These are shrubs that are proven to thrive locally and so will require the least fussing. They will also have greater appeal for local birds seeking familiar foods. There are many cultivars of native plants available. However, in some cases, changes made for aesthetic purposes have altered the berries making them unappealing to birds. To be sure of an abundant and appetizing berry crop choose native species where possible.
Avoid the use of any plants considered invasive, such as Japanese or Tartarian honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet, or Russian olive. Some non-native plants that have been promoted for their wildlife appeal have spread to natural areas and threaten important wildlife habitat. This is particularly true for bird attracting berries, which can be spread over wide areas by the birds that consume them.
Try to plant fruiting shrubs in multiples together. Some species, such as the hollies, have separate male and female plants that must both be present to produce fruit. However, even plants with both male and female parts on the same plant often produce a better berry crop when planted in groups. In addition, larger clumps of bright berries are more likely to catch the eye of passing birds and draw them in.
Shrubs and Trees for Fall Fruit:
Arrowwood - Viburnum dentatum
Bearberry - Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Bunchberry - Cornus canadensis
Dogwoods - Cornus spp.
Madrone - Arbutus menziesii
Mapleleaf viburnum - Viburnum acerifolium
Mountain ash - Sorbus decora, S. Americana, S. sitchensis (fruit persists into winter)
Spicebush - Lindera benzoin
Virginia creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Shrubs and Trees for Winter Fruit:
American bittersweet - Celastrus scandens
American highbush cranberry - Viburnum trilobum
Bayberry - Myrica pensylvanica (only plant native species)
Chokeberry - Aronia spp.
Northern hackbery - Celtis occidentalis
Hawthorn - Crataegus spp.
Holly - Ilex glabra, I. verticillata (only plant native species)
Nannyberry - Viburnum lentago
Snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus
Sumac - Rhus spp.
Wild crabapple - Malus cornaria, M. fusca
Wild grape - Vitis riparia
Wild rose - Rosa spp.