The long, cold winter months can be especially difficult for garden birds. Since they have to to forage in freezing temperatures for food, birds require lots of high-fat, rich food to help them stay warm. While providing food on a bird feeder is a great help, we can always do more. A more natural way of helping is to consider planting some plants for birds that they can eat from all winter long.
Many attractive plants will not only help to sustain our feathered friends but will also add color and interest to your garden during the dark winter months. If you want to add a bit of vibrance to your garden while also helping the birds, here is our list of the best winter plants for birds.
The attractive orange berries of the Pyracantha give the plant its other name: firethorn. You can grow Pyracantha as a shrub or train it to climb up a wall or fence. Not only do birds love the orange berries, but they also enjoy perching in the plant’s evergreen foliage.
It’s sometimes not just enough to provide plants for birds. Sometimes we also need to temper our desire to tidy up and cut every plant back. It may be tempting to completely cut back your roses each year after flowering. However, rose hips are also a source of food for birds.
The hedging rose, Rosa rugosa, produces exceptionally large rose hips. These are often taken by blackbirds, mistle thrush or fieldfares. Many other birds also enjoy the smaller hips of the dog rose, or Rosa canina.
This deciduous shrub is a popular option when discussing plants for birds. It produces heavy clusters of glossy red, black, and blueberries from November through until March, and is also a great hedging plant. Finches, thrushes, waxwings, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds all enjoy Viburnum’s berries. In addition, this plant doesn’t just produce attractive foliage and flowers—it’s also one of the best flowers for an aromatic garden.
Allow this popular garden plant’s flowers to fade and remain in place until they form large seed heads. Sunflower seeds are popular with finches and other seed-eating birds.
An attractive shrub that produces lots of bright red berries from the fall. As well as being one of the most popular plants for birds, it will also add structure and color to your garden. This is another shrub that produces lots of tasty red berries for birds.
One of the more versatile plants for birds. Commonly known as the rowan or mountain ash, different Sorbus varieties bear fruit at different times of the year. For example, Sorbus aucuparia will fruit in late summer, while Sorbus torminalis fruits in the late fall or early winter. Cultivating some of these plants for birds will provide them with a hearty supply of berries from late July until November.
This is a popular climber that thrives in tight spaces and is ideal for covering walls and fences. In addition, honeysuckle is also one of the best plants for birds. Summer flowering varieties attract insects and provide foods for many species of birds. While in the autumn, the plant’s berries and leaves provide food and shelter for finches, warblers, and thrushes.
For something a little different, winter-flowering varieties will fill your garden with an attractive, sweet scent. It also produces colorful flowers, filled with nectar, attracting late insects and garden birds.
This plant is a common feature in wild and natural gardens. The distinctive shape of the Teasel’s seedhead works well in most garden styles, adding interest and structure. It’s an architectural plant, and its seedheads—which make it one of the best plants for birds—are popular with finches, buntings, and sparrows. Expect the seedheads to last from early fall until well into December.
9. Festuca Gautieri
Also known as Spiky Fescue or Bearskin, this ornamental grass grows in dense clumps. From these grassy mounds stately, fluffy seedheads emerge. These plants last from the fall until late winter. Attracting lots of different insect species, they provide a warm shelter from the seasonal temperatures. One of the plants for birds that love for the bugs they can find, this is an attractive addition to any garden.
Hawthorn trees produce shiny clusters of haw berries, which will remain on the trees until late February or early March if your birds haven’t got them all. Many berry-loving birds, such as redwings and blackbirds, love hawthorn trees, as do finches and starlings.
This isn’t merely one of the best plants for birds, either. In fact, hawthorn leaves are a popular food for many moth caterpillar varieties. This means that you’ll often see baby birds in Hawthorn trees in the spring, feasting on insects.
Ivy is often seen as a garden irritant, due to its quick spreading habit. However, it is also one of the best plants for birds. Blossoming in the late fall, ivy is a popular plant for many insects. This, along with its dense foliage and rich red berries, means that birds often target ivy plants for either food or shelter.
Birch trees are a popular garden tree for birds. While siskins and redpolls are just some of the birds that feed on the tree, its shed bark is also a popular nesting material.
One of the most attractive variants is the Silver birch. A stunning tree, the pale bark and delicate leaves of Betula pendula suit almost every garden. During the winter months, the catkins produced by birch trees bear seeds that attract many different bird species.
Holly is a popular garden bush that has been a great, evergreen source of garden color for centuries. Additionally, the bright red berries are a favorite of thrushes, blackbirds, redwings, and fieldfares. When planting holly, bear in mind that only the female holly plant produces berries. There must also be a male plant nearby to guarantee pollination. Many smaller birds like to roost in the bushes, enjoying the protection that the plant’s spiky leaves offer from predators.
Perhaps more unusual in domestic gardens, millet is one of the most obvious plants for birds. It’s just one of many seed grasses that can be used as a food source for our avian friends. The most commonly grown domestic variety is foxtail millet, which is a low-yielding grass that doesn’t return year after year. It’s a good smother crop, and provides both food and cover for birds.
15. Curly Dock
Commonly found in gardens, hedgerows and roadside verges, dock is often seen as a weed. However, that doesn’t mean that you should dig it up and throw it on your compost tumbler. The plant has many benefits, not least as a winter plant for birds. This dock produces tall, flowering spikes that are densely packed with flowers. When spent, these turn into seed heads, which attract all manner of garden birds.
16. Cherry Trees
There are many different cherry trees to choose from, including, black cherry, chokecherry, and pin cherry trees. Not only can these be colorful and stately additions to your garden but the trees can also add structure and definition to a space. In addition, numerous birds from waxwings, flycatchers, and finches to large jays, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, and even pheasants, feed on the fruit of various cherry trees.
17. Oak Trees
There is nothing quite like an ancient oak tree, and even young trees will produce acorns that attract wildlife to your garden. These acorns are a winter staple, which feed squirrels, chipmunks, and also various birds. Ducks, grouse, pheasants, quail, turkeys, woodpeckers, and jays all enjoy feeding on oak trees.
Yew is a versatile plant that can be grown as a tree or trimmed into natural hedging. The dense evergreen foliage can provide shelter and security for many birds. While mockingbirds, robins, sparrows, and other species will target the plants’ juicy red fruit.
The fruits of the blueberry bush aren’t just good for humans. Many birds also prize those tantalizing, juicy berries. Jays, sparrows, thrushes, waxwings, and woodpeckers are all attracted to the plants, as are deer, who like to eat the plant’s woody shoots during the winter months when other food is hard to find.
Many evergreen plants such as juniper, cedar, spruce, hemlock, and pine are popular with birds. Their thick branches provide winter shelter from harsh conditions and determined predators. Additionally, many game birds, as well as waxwings and other garden species, like to eat evergreen tree berries. Meanwhile, goldfinches, nuthatches, siskins, and chickadees all like to pick the seeds from spruce and pine cones.
Winter can be a difficult time for small garden birds, who need to eat almost a third of their body weight each day. By growing some (or all) of these plants, as well as providing bird seed and suet, you can help these feathered friends survive the winter. By providing a natural source of food, you won’t just help the birds—you’ll also be adding color and interest to your garden during the quiet winter months.