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Trees and shrubs that attract birds

Cardinal sitting in crabapple

It takes more than a feeder and a birdbath to make your yard truly bird friendly. Birds need a complete habitat that provides food, shelter, nesting areas, and singing posts from which to defend their territories.

Factors to Consider When Attracting Birds


A Bird Pantry

Birds get their food not only from the fruits of plants but from their buds, flowers, and nectar. You may want to select plants that provide food in each of these ways.

Select plants to provide food for birds in every season. Fruits ripen in different seasons. Plants with spring-ripening fruits that feed new parent birds include serviceberries, wild cherries, and mulberries. In fall, migrating birds look for the fatty, ripening fruits of spicebush, magnolia, sassafras, and flowering dogwood. Other plants bear fruits that persist through the winter providing an important source of nutrients when the ground is covered with snow. These plants include nannyberry, sumac, hawthorn, and crabapple.

Not all berries are consumed by all bird species. In some cases, fruits may be too large for a bird to swallow. Use a diversity of plant species to attract more birds.


Concentrate on Native Plants

Emphasize native trees, shrubs, and vines. Native plants and birds have evolved side-by-side over thousands of years. Native plants are more likely to provide the right mix, size, and nutritional values that birds in our area require.

By incorporating native habitats into our landscapes, we create natural corridors for birds to pass back and forth through their natural ranges. This is especially important for areas that have been impacted by development.

Avoid exotic, invasive species. Some exotic species, like buckthorn or Japanese honeysuckle, provide abundant fruit for birds; however, they tend to crowd out native species over time, robbing birds and other animals of the diverse mix of plants needed for food and shelter.


Take a Cue From Nature

Plant in drifts. If you look to nature, you’ll discover that in the wild, plants usually occur in groups. This promotes cross-pollination, boosts fertility (and, therefore, fruit yield), and makes it easier for migrating birds to spot ripening fruits.

Consider vertical layers. Natural areas tend to have vertical layers, each attracting and providing something important to different bird species. Some birds prefer the canopy of tall trees. Others perch in the understory trees. Many build nests in shrubs, while still others find shelter and nesting materials in vines and ground covers. Try to create as many of these layers as possible in your backyard bird refuge.

Plant at least one grouping of conifers. These plants provide year-round windbreaks, shelter, and nesting sites.

Leave a dead tree or some dead branches on living trees. As long as the branches or tree aren’t in danger of falling on people, buildings, or power lines, these make excellent perches and singing posts for birds. Many birds also like to nest in the cavities of dead trees or branches.

*Indicates native to the Midwest

**Genus contains some native and some non-native species

Large Deciduous Trees (over 30 feet tall)

Botanical / Common Name:  Plant Appeal

Acer species** / maple: Seeds that ripen in fall, often persisting into winter; buds; sap; insects on foliage; nesting site

Betula nigra* / river birch: Seeds; flower buds; insects on foliage

Celtis occidentalis* / common hackberry: Fruits ripen in late summer, often persisting through winter; nesting site; shelter

Larix decidua / European larch: Cones; shelter; nesting site

Prunus maackii amur cherry: Fruits ripen in August

Prunus serotina* / wild black cherry: Fruits ripen in August-September.

Quercus species** / oak: Acorns; insects; shelter; nesting site

Taxodium distichum* / bald cypress: Seeds; shelter

Tilia americana* / American linden: Seeds; shelter

Ulmus species / elm: Flowers; seeds; shelter


Small Deciduous Ornamental Trees (15-25 feet tall)

Botanical / Common Name: Plant Appeal

Amelanchier species* / serviceberry: Fruits available June to August

Carpinus caroliniana* / American hornbeam: Nutlets; shelter

Cornus alternifolia* / pagoda dogwood: Fruits ripen in July-August and do not persist long.

Cornus mas / cornelian-cherry dogwood: Fruits ripen in July.

Crataegus species** / hawthorn: Fruits ripen in fall and persist until spring; insects on foliage; winter

Malus species** / flowering crabapple: Fruit; nesting site

Ostrya virginiana* / ironwood, hop-hornbeam: Seeds; shelter

Prunus virginiana* / common chokecherry: Fruits; flower buds

Sorbus aucuparia / European mountain ash: Fruit ripens in late August into September, usually eaten by birds before winter

Syringa reticulata / Japanese tree lilac: Seeds



Botanical / Common Name: Plant Appeal

Juniperus species** / juniper: Fruit; shelter; nesting site

Picea abies / Norway spruce: Cones; shelter; nesting site

Picea glauca / white spruce: Cones; shelter; nesting site

Pinus strobus* / white pine: Cones on trees 10+ years old; shelter; nesting site

Taxus cuspidata / Japanese yew: Fruit ripens in August-November; nesting site; shelter

Thuja occidentalis* / eastern arborvitae:  Cones; shelter; nesting site

Thuja plicata / western arborvitae: Cones; shelter; nesting site

Tsuga canadensis / eastern hemlock: Cones; shelter; nesting site


Large Deciduous Shrubs (over 8 feet tall)

Botanical / Common Name: Plant Appeal

Cephalanthus occidentalis/ button bush: Nutlets persist through winter

Cornus racemosa/ gray dogwood: Fruit ripens July through October and persist into early winter; shelter; nesting site

Cotoneaster multiflora / showy cotoneaster: Fruit; shelter

Euonymus atropurpureus/ wahoo: Seeds

Hamamelis vernalis / vernal witch-hazel: Seeds released in September-October

Hamamelis virginiana/ common witch-hazel: Seeds

Ilex decidua* / possum-haw: Fruit matures in autumn and persists through winter; nesting site

Rhus glabra/ smooth sumac: Fruit ripens in later summer and persists into winter; shelter

Rhus typhina/ staghorn sumac: Fruit ripens in August –September and persists into spring; shelter

Sambucus canadensis/ common elderberry: Fruit ripens July-September; nesting site

Viburnum dentatum* / arrowwood viburnum: Fruit ripens late August-November; cover; nesting

Viburnum lentago/ nannyberry viburnum: Fruit ripens September-October, often persisting into December; nesting; cover

Viburnum prunifolium/ black-haw viburnum: Fruit ripens in early fall; nesting site; shelter

Viburnum opulus var. americanum/ American cranberrybush wiburnum: Fruit ripens in early September and persists through February


Intermediate Deciduous Shrubs  (5-8 feet tall)

Botanical / Common Names: Plant Appeal

Aronia arbutifolia/ red chokeberry: Fruit ripens September-November and persists into January

Berberis koreanaKorean barberry: Berries ripen in fall and persist into winter; shelter

Clethra alnifolia / summersweet clethra: Seeds persist through winter

Cornus sericea/ red-osier dogwood: Fruit ripens in summer; shelter

Corylus americana/ American hazelnut: Seeds mature September-October

Hibiscus syriacus / Rose-of-Sharon: Seeds persist through winter

Ilex verticillata/ common winterberry: Fruits ripen in fall and persist into winter

Lindera benzoin/ spicebush: High fat content fruits ripen July-October and are quickly eaten by birds

Myrica pensylvanica / bayberry: Fruits persist into winter; shelter


Low-Growing Deciduous Shrubs (under 5 feet tall)

Botanical/Common Name: Plant Appeal

Amorpha canescens/ leadplant: Seeds persist into winter

Cotoneaster horizontalis / rock cotoneaster: Fruits ripen August-September

Hypericum prolificum/ shrubby St. John’s wort: Seeds persist all winter

Rhus aromatica/ fragrant sumac: Berries ripen August-September and may persist into winter although they usually lose their bird-attracting color

Ribes alpinum / alpine currant: Fruits ripen in June-July on female plants

Rosa rugosa / rugosa rose: Fruit ripens in August, often persisting into winter

Rubus allegheniensis* / wild blackberry: Berries ripen from late August into fall

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus/ coralberry: Berries ripen in October, persisting late into winter