During winter months food sources for birds and other wildlife become scarce. Some homeowners choose to leave out feeders for their feathery friends to help get them through this difficult season, but there are other options that provide both a great food source and a safe shelter. Several plants, which are listed below, retain fruit during the harshest months of the year. While others provide a dense and safe shelter from weather and predators.
Birds, like anyone else, have their favorite foods. The amount of time the fruit remains on the plant can vary depending on how favored it is by the birds and the specific variety of the plant. Not all plants have a “persistent” fruit. Persistent fruit means that the fruit will never drop off the plant. At the end of the season, unconsumed fruit dries up on the plant. This persistent fruit allows birds to consume other food in early winter and save these fruits for later in the season. The other benefit to persistent fruit is that it will not make a mess in your landscape. It helps to have a variety of plants in the landscape to support the birds. The following trees and shrubs provide a valuable food source for birds in the winter.
- Malus ‘Prairifire’ (Prairifire Crab)
This ornamental tree has persistent deep purple-red fruit that forms in late summer to fall providing not only beautiful winter interest, but a hardy crop of food. This Crab is also known for a bright pink flower in spring as well as a unique burgundy green foliage.
- Viburnum dentatum ‘Synnestvedt’ (Chicago Lustre Arrowwood)
This shrub produces little blue and black fruits in fall that remain on the shrub until consumed by birds. This cultivar is known for a more abundant fruit production than the species.
- Callicarpa americana (Beautyberry)
This naturalized looking shrub produces a vibrant purple fruit along the stem. The fruit is so spectacular that the flower it produces is insignificant.
- Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Serviceberry)
This ornamental tree has a persistent blue fruit that resembles a blueberry. They typically do not last long, as the birds tend to devour this fruit first. The Serviceberry is also known for a beautiful white flower in spring and a brilliant orange fall color. This tree is native to the area.
Food is a big must to keep birds around all year, but they also require safe places to nest and perch that will protect them from harsh temperatures, wind, and predators. Plants that provide homes for birds are thick-branched deciduous trees and dense evergreens that maintain their foliage all winter long. A few examples of these trees are listed below.
- Picea (Spruce)
Spruce are a favorite of birds because they have stiff and sturdy branches that protect them from weather and predators. They also produce seeds within their cones that can be used as a food source
- Tsuga canadensis (Eastern Hemlock)
Hemlock trees are shade tolerant evergreens that prefer protected locations, this makes them fantastic habitat for birds and other wildlife. The dense foliage that persists all winter provides cover and insulation for birds and food for grazing animals that need a quick snack.
- Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae)
Arborvitae are another evergreen that provides shelter for birds during the winter months. The fast growing shrub has dense foliage and is perfect for narrow or wet locations.
- Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ (Winter King Hawthorn)
This ornamental deciduous tree may lose its leaf in fall, but offers thick and dense branching to make a great winter home for birds. This variety can produce some thorns. It also offers a persistent red fruit.