Bird feeders and bird baths are a great way to attract birds to your yard. But it’s certainly not the only way! The plants, trees and shrubs you have around your home will also determine the types of birds that visit your yard. Not only do native plants provide food such as seeds, insects and berries, but they also provide shelter. Places to hide from predators, take cover in inclement weather, and suitable nesting habitat are all things birds are on the look out for. So let’s talk about what makes a plant attractive, and some specific examples of the types of plants that attract birds.
Why Do Plants Attract Birds
What makes a plant attractive to birds? It’s pretty simple, food and shelter!
Dense foliage, twiggy shrubs, thick brambles and evergreen leaves all play a part in creating sheltered areas for birds. Just as we would seek shelter during rainy, snowy, cold and windy days, so do your backyard bird buddies. Just having a few trees and shrubs in your yard can help provide these sheltered perching spots. Having shelter close by also helps birds avoid predators such as hawks. During breeding season, many birds like to build their nests in areas of heavy cover to protect their babies from the weather and predators.
There are many birds that you won’t be able to attract with a seed feeder because they primarily eat insects. So to entice these bug-loving birds to visit your yard, you’ll have to include some plants that support insects.
Some common insectivorous birds are:
Insects will also benefit the birds that come to your bird feeder. Many seed eating birds will supplement their diet with insects, and will use insects (especially caterpillars) as the main food source for their nestlings. So plants and trees that support caterpillars can make your yard a much more attractive option for building a nest and raising young. Some common feeder birds that also eat insects are: cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, orioles, titmice and woodpeckers.
Before humans were providing easy access to seed at bird feeders, the birds were doing just fine finding seeds on their own. By having some seed bearing plants you can easily offer seed without using a bird feeder. Even if you do use a bird feeder, having plants in your yard that offer diverse seeds can attract more bird variety.
Some common granivorous birds (birds that primarily eat seeds & grains) are:
Fruits contain sugar, which is a good source of energy and sought after by many birds. Fruits can include things us humans would eat such as oranges, apples, raspberries and cherries, but also many types of berries that we do not find tasty or would be downright toxic to us. Some species of fruiting plants are able to continue producing fruit into the winter months, and this becomes an important source of energy when it is cold and other food may be scarce.
Common backyard birds that love fruit are:
- American Robins
- Gray Catbirds
- Northern Mockingbirds
Now that we know what the birds are interested in, let’s look at some common plant species that can provide good food and shelter opportunities for the birds in your yard. As always, we encourage you to only plant what is native to your area.
6 Types Of Trees That Attract Birds
Oak trees provide food for many caterpillars and other insects. This provides great foraging opportunities for insect loving birds. In the fall oak trees produce acorns which are an important winter food source for many forest birds. Woodpeckers, blue jays, nuthatchs and titmice are acorn fans, to name a few. Oak trees also provide good shelter and nest cavities due to their characteristics of large branches, broad leaves, and durable wood.
2. Wild Cherry
In the spring, wild cherry trees explode with flowers that attract insects eaten by birds. Their spring flowers also provide nectar for hummingbirds. Later in the summer, the cherry fruit is produced and eaten by many species of fruit loving birds . These trees also host many caterpillars, which are an important part of many birds diet.
Along with oak, maples are another favorite of wild birds both for finding insects to eat as well as being good trees for nesting. Maple has a softer bark than some other forest trees, which is enjoyed by insect and sap probing woodpeckers. Maples also host hundreds of caterpillar species. In the spring, maples produce seeds called samaras (I call them helicopters!) that provide food for many birds including grosbeaks and cardinals.
4. Flowering Dogwood
Insects (and hummingbirds) love to visit the beautiful spring flowers, and the birds follow the bugs. In the fall, flowering dogwood produces red fruit that is sought after by many birds. I happen to have flowering dogwood in my yard and I know it is a favorite of our local bluebirds and robins.
5. American Holly
Holly leaves are thick, sturdy and evergreen. This makes the holly tree a bird favorite for finding shelter from bad weather. It also provides a safe, sheltered spot for nest building. Northern cardinals and robins are known to choose hollies for nesting. Holly berries (which only grow on female plants) ripen in the fall and into winter, providing food later into the year than many other trees.
6. American Beech
This tree is known to host more caterpillars than nearly any other tree. Caterpillars are hugely important to breeding birds and are commonly fed to newly hatched young. This means many birds will flock to the beech, including warblers, vireos and tanagers. In the fall many birds enjoy the trees beechnuts, and its sap attracts bird like the yellow bellied sapsucker.
9 Common Shrubs & Bushes That Attract Birds
1. American Elderberry
A top shrub for attracting birds, elderberry is a great yard choice. Its spring blooms attract many insects, providing good foraging for the birds. Its main feature, however, is the clumps of purple berries it produces in the late summer. These berries are a bird favorite.
Juniper is a great shrub for backyard birds. They are evergreens, which means their shelter extends through the winter and offers protection from the cold and wind. In the spring, birds enjoy the cover of junipers for nesting. Their waxy blue berries are available through the winter, providing an important food source during scarce times. (note: only pollinated females produce berries)
3. Arrowood Viburnum
In the spring this shrub attracts insects to its white flowers. In the late summer/early fall it produces dark colored berries that birds love. A great shrub for borders along fences or as a hedge row.
Serviceberry has long been considered a top shrub for attracting wild birds. In the spring its white flowers attract many insects. In late spring – early summer it produces small reddish-purple fruits that are particularly juicy, sweet and nutrient dense. The birds love these so much they often pick them off the bush before they can fully ripen!
5. Blackberry & Raspberry
Fruiting shrubs both you AND the birds can enjoy! These shrubs attract many insects, which makes them good hunting grounds for birds. They grow in big tangled brambles, which is an attractive habitat to many birds for nesting and shelter. And of course, they love those delicious berries.
6. Northern Bayberry
Bayberrys are a semi-evergreen shrub that have their silvery colored berries all year round. Aside from a reliable source of fruit, they also offer good shelter and nest sites.
7. Staghorn Sumac
The staghorn sumac has beautiful bright red foliage in the fall, and provides both seeds and fruit to wild birds. It is fall fruiting, which means it can provide a food source into the cold winter months.
A member of the holly family, this shrub provides many of the same “pros” as the holly tree. It’s hardy, provides good shelter, and the berries persist into the winter as an important food source.
9. Virginia Creeper
This vine may look at lot like poison ivy, but won’t harm your skin. The fruit produced by Virginia Creeper is an important food source for many birds during the winter.
7 Types Of Flowers That Attract Birds
While we may think of flowers attracting hummingbirds by producing nectar, flowers can attract songbirds by bringing more insects to the yard, and producing seeds enjoyed by many species.
These large and beautiful flowers are the king of the seed world. Sunflower seeds are one of the best and most commonly used seeds in birdseed mixes for their nutritional value.
2. Purple Coneflower
These lovely blooms will attract pollinators and butterflies, and in the fall their seeds will attract finches and other birds.
Cornflower is an attractive plant for both birds and insects. It provides pollen, nectar, seeds and sap.
4. Black-Eyed Susan
A yard favorite for many, black-eyed susans produce seeds loved by small birds such as chickadees and finches.
Many gardeners collect zinnia seeds at the end of the season and keep them to re-plant next year. These pretty blooms produce plenty of seeds enjoyed by sparrows and finches.
Producing delicate purple color late in the season, asters produce seeds enjoyed by many small birds.
These long-blooming flowers will keep your summer garden bright. Marigolds attract many insects, which in turn will attract many insect loving birds. Unfortunately sometimes blackbirds and other larger birds will trample and tear apart the blooms in their quest to find the bugs.
Additional Landscaping Ideas To Attract Birds
I once heard a quote that said a perfectly manicured lawn is a biological desert. While many homeowners strive for a perfectly wide open carpet of green grass, that perfect lawn is a wasteland for most birds. We don’t let lawns grow tall enough to produce seeds, they have no fruits or flower nectar and few insects other than worms.
While I understand not wanting to give up a tidy lawn for an unkempt jungle, you may want to consider letting a few sections go a little wild. For many homes, the backyard is much less visible to the public than the front yard. You could keep typical grass in the front, but let some natural lawn cover like clover or violets take over in the backyard. Native plants and weeds that fill in will bring more insects.
Redesign your edges. Could you loose a foot or two of lawn on the edges of your property, or in a far corner, and plant some shrubs or native flowers instead? Add a few stick piles, leave some leaf litter.
One year, I didn’t do the best job getting rid of all the leaves in my backyard that fell during the fall. I raked many to the edges of the yard and just left them. Without meaning to, I found that actually attracted many birds that like to forage on the ground and dig through leaves to find bugs, such as the eastern towhee and brown thrasher. Now I always make sure to leave some unkempt areas.
Melanie is an environmental scientist, birdwatcher, and amateur photographer. She’s been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and learning about birds of all types. Over the years, Melanie has identified more than 250 bird species, with sightings of the Atlantic Puffin, Hawaiian Goose, and Arctic Tern among her most cherished.