Berries for birds

The Oregon grape mahonia is an attractive useful broadleaf evergreen that grows in poor soils.

The sound of birds singing in the morning can be music to many gardeners. Any garden can be a place of beauty and solitude as well a smorgasbord for the many birds found in Oklahoma. There are dozens of trees and shrubs which will provide shelter and food for the birds.

No matter what part of the United States you are in, not all bird head south for the winter; some don’t relocate at all. When winter weather changes, each species of birds needs stable food supply to get them through the longer nights and cooler days.

When plants need to be replaced, think in terms of what birds need when these changes are made. Think about the basic needs of birds such as food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young.

Many gardens lack appropriate understory plants that both feed and create habitat for birds. Understory plants are between trees and lawn, that progress from groundcover to shrubs to tall trees, similar to the natural look of a forest.

One of the best ways to watch birds is to find native plants that are laden with ripe fruit of the sort that birds will eat. Birds often come out in the open to feed and when there is plenty of food, they seem to be more at ease with human presence, or at least more likely to not fly away.

Usually native plants are best since they are what the birds normally feed, but there are some exotic plants that will provide the food and shelter needed by native birds. The more plant species that can be planted in the garden the more likely the gardener is to attract birds. Leave some piles of brush if possible, to provide shelter. If the right plants are planted many times bird feeders are not needed to attract birds.

Many of the useful berry species are found in Oklahoma landscapes. The Oregon grape mahonia is an attractive useful broadleaf evergreen that grows in poor soils. Finch and robins enjoy its bright yellow flowers followed by blue, egg-shaped fruit.

A good tree that attracts birds is the Carolina cherry laurel native from North Carolina to Texas. It is a very rapid growing small to medium sized tree that produces a tremendous amount of seeds. This plant can also be pruned as a shrub, but the number of fruits is reduced.

Smooth sumac is another native plant to Oklahoma that produces fruit for birds. This plant is an irregular shrubby clump with dense triangular fruit cluster near the top of the plant, remaining throughout the fall and winter months. Seeds are dark red, rounded, coarsely hairy readily eaten by most birds.

Even though a chinaberry is considered a weed tree in most landscape because it produces many seeds, birds just love them. The blue to purplish flower blooms in April and the fruit ripens in September to October which provides food into late fall to early winter. Just don’t plant this tree close to buildings and walkways.

The red-osier dogwood is a tough durable deciduous shrub that produces a white or lead color fruit with a hard seed that matures in mid-to late summer. Many songbirds eat the fruit and small birds like to nest in the branches.

The thorny Elaeagnus or sometimes called silverberry is an irregular, semi-upright, large spreading shrub that attracts many native birds to the area. Not only is the fruit eaten, but also the branches with their thorns provide protection for birds.

Lantana is a summer annual in Oklahoma that attracts the western bluebird ready to consume the fruit. An additional benefit is that it is a magnet for many butterflies.

There are many other fine fruits and berries for birds including loquat, jujube, currants, gooseberry and blackberry. Any berry species is worth trying so to enjoy the presents of birds in the landscape.

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