Landscaping to Attract Birds: How to Keep our Feathered Friends Plump and Happy

June 26, 2013

Whether you have a 2 acre parcel of land or a 3000 sq foot lot, any garden can be planted to attract and feed birds.  In late fall and winter, when the riot  spring and summer has faded, a shrub with berries that provide a pop of color and interest is not only a welcome sight to us, but to our native birds as well, as this is when “pickin’s are slim”.

Black capped chickadee copyright Daniel Behn

Black capped chickadee – Daniel Behn

 When landscaping with shrubs that attract birds, you can choose to use natives or ornamentals – which ever suits your garden aesthetic.

Landscaping with Pacific Northwest Natives to attract birds:

Why use natives?  As Stephen Kress of the national Audubon Society says, ”

“Native plants, which have co-evolved with native wild birds, are more likely to provide a mix of foods – just the right size, and with just the right kind of nutrition – and just when the birds need them.”

Red elderberry, Sambucus racemosa

Red elderberry has large clusters of creamy white flowers in spring that turn into luscious bunches of red berries by June.  This is a great shrub to plant on the edges or borders of a property or to help transition from a manicured area of the garden to a more wild space.  Leave some space for this shrub as it grows to be 10-18 ft tall  by 8-10 ft wide.  It’s easy to grow,  moist tolerant and will keep your back yard feathered friends happy for months.

red elderberry - hoodriverswcd

Red elderberry – hoodriverswcd

Flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum

Flowering currant is attractive as both a nectar plant for hummingbirds when it blooms in early spring, and for providing berries for other birds in mid-summer.  Try ‘King Edward VII’ which gets 6ft tall and has dark pick blooms followed by dark purple berries or “White Icicles’ which drips with clusters of white flowers in early spring, followed by blue-black berries in summer.

flowering currant - Jacksons Nurseries

Flowering currant – Jackson’s Nurseries

Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus

Snowberry is an enchanting shrub with its unique egg white berries that form in late summer and persist on bare stems through early spring.  It grows to be approximately 5 ft tall and wide and thrives in a variety of conditions from moist to dry soil and sun to shade.  Snowberry looks best when planted in massings rather than as an individual due to its loose, delicate habit.



Evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum

If you’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for any period of time, you know about evergreen huckleberries – or perhaps you only know them as jam or in a cobbler…Yum!  Well, this Pacific Northwest native is just too good to leave off the list.  Evergreen huckleberry grows to be approximately 3 ft tall in sun and up to 8ft in full shade.  Pale pink spring flowers turn into red berries in summer and morph into purple berries in fall, perfect for picking and eating, err, I mean, leaving for the birds to snack on!

Evergreen huckleberry

Evergreen huckleberry

Oregon grape, Mahonia sp.  especially Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’ or ‘Charity’

All varieties of Oregon grape fruit, but the tall upright forms of ‘Arthur Menzies’ or ‘Charity’ make a perfect perch for feeding birds.  Sprays of brilliant golden flowers in winter give-way to waxy purple berries by late summer and fall.  ‘Charity’ and ‘Arthur Menzies’ both grow to approximately 8ft tall and make a dramatic statement in a garden when planted in groupings of three.

Charity Oregon grape

Charity Oregon grape

Landscaping with Ornamentals to Attract Birds:

While studies show birds are slightly less attracted to non-native plant species, you can plant ornamentals and enjoy the flutter of little wings outside your window, as well.

Sweet box, Sarcococca sp.

Do you have a tough shady area where other plants won’t grow?  Sweet box may be the plant for you!  Sweet box grows to 3 -5 ft tall and wide with gently arching branches and evergreen leaves.  Fragrant white blooms in late winter turn into either red (ruscifolia) or glossy black (confusa) berries in the spring and summer.

Sweet box

Sweet box

 David viburnum, Viburnum davidii

This is when I have to ask myself, “How does nature produce these colors?!”  David viburnum has many redeeming qualities, it’s thick glossy evergreen leaves, clusters of white flowers in spring… but it’s the metallic turquoise blue fall berries that really steal the show!  David viburnum grows to be 2-4 ft tall by 3-4 ft wide.  Use it as a foundation planting or as a low informal row along a walkway.

David viburnum

David viburnum

 Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica

Heavenly bamboo can range in height from ft for the straight species to 1-2 ft for a dwarf variety such as ‘Moon Bay’.  Vibrant clusters of red berries form in fall and persist through winter.  Heavenly bamboo is known for its evergreen foliage which ranges in color from shades of yellow, orange and red to deep blue green, but it’s the bright red berries that form in summer and fall that will keep the birds coming back for more.

Heavenly bamboo

Heavenly bamboo

 Scarlet firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea

This shrub works double duty by providing ample food for birds from late summer through winter with its massive clusters of orange to red berries, as well as space to roost and nest in its densely growing habit.

It grows 8-10ft tall by 10 ft wide and is considered drought tolerant once established.

Scarlet firethorn

Scarlet firethorn

Beautyberry, Callicarpa

I first saw this shrub while walking on the UW campus and it stopped me in my tracks.  Callicarpa berries emerge bright grape candy purple in late summer when the leaves are still vibrant green and cling to the bare twigs through most of the winter.  A couple varieties worth trying include; ‘Profusion’, which gets to 6-7 ft tall by wide or ‘Early Amethyst’, which is a little smaller at 4-5 ft tall and wide.  If you want it to berry well, be sure to plant it in full sun.

Beauty berry - RHS

Beauty berry – RHS

 This list of shrubs is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to landscaping to attract birds.  By planting any number of these you’ll not only be sure to keep your garden hopping with activity, but you’ll help to keep the native birds plump and happy through winter.

Anna's hummingbird - Jack Doyle

Anna’s hummingbird – Jack Doyle

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  1. Pingback: This Week In Landscape | 30 June 2013 « World Landscape Architecture – landscape architecture webzine

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