The beginning of November means there is still time to add winter color for you and berries for the birds to your landscape. You can add or transplant trees, shrubs and hardy vines in the landscape as long as the ground is not frozen.
Last week’s column was controversial as it suggested we stop putting out bird seed but instead provide plants to feed the birds. Bird seed encourages rats, squirrels, weeds and nuisance birds, such as starlings and pigeons, and bird feeders can spread disease. The Audubon Society does not ban feeding birds, but does have this information about keeping wild birds healthy on their website:
“Bringing birds together like we do at feeders and bird baths is unnatural, and increases the chances for them to spread disease or for waste to accumulate and breed diseases.”
The Audubon Society also suggests spreading feeders and baths out so that there are several sources of food and water in different parts of the yard to reduce competition and the concentration of birds. It is also important to keep feeders clean should you offer seed or suet. Remove old seed and bird waste and disinfect bird baths and feeders with a weak bleach solution.
Here are some of the trees and shrubs that will provide a natural food source for the birds this winter.
Maple trees (Acer Family): used by finches, nuthatches, warblers, wood peckers.
Not only do maples add fall and summer color, but they also attract insects that will feed the birds all year-round. In our climate, both the smaller leaf maples such as the Japanese maples and the larger leaf maples such as the spectacular Sunset maple will thrive despite hosting a population of aphid, borers or beetles that are natural protein sources for birds. Maple trees also offer seeds, nesting sites and nest building material.
Oregon grape (Mahonia): used by cedar waxwing, robins, towhees.
This native plant is now easy to find at local nurseries and there are several new varieties with larger blooms and more robust growth. Oregon grape is an excellent evergreen for dry shade and the holly-like leaves offer a safe winter haven for birds while the berries provide nourishment.
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos): used by cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, robins, thrushes, towhees.
Showy white berries stand out on the bare branches all winter long and this native plant thrives on rainfall alone, making it a great choice for a landscape without a sprinkler system. The fruit is not as tasty as other options, so the birds will save this meal until the dead of winter when not much else is hanging around. Snowberry has small spring blossoms that provide nectar for hummingbirds.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera): used by chickadees, finches, robins, cat birds and thrushes.
Evergreen and deciduous versions of the honeysuckle vine are of great value to the birds that use their flowers, fruit and insects. Honeysuckle also provides winter shelter amidst the tangle of the vining limbs. The fragrant summer flowers will attract hummingbirds while the winter and fall berries feed small birds all winter.
Viburnums: used by cardinals, grosbeaks, robins, sparrows, thrushes and towhees.
Viburnums are a wide-ranging family of shrubs that come in evergreen and deciduous forms, and they love to grow in the naturally acidic soil and wet winter weather of Western Washington. All but the snowball type of viburnum will provide winter berries and the evergreen viburnums offer dense foliage for winter shelter. Viburnums also host insects in the spring and summer to provide more bird food – plus they are attractive shrubs that come in many different forms and varieties.