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If you’re looking to attract birds like thrushes, bluebirds, warblers, and woodpeckers to your yard, then planting a variety of trees and shrubs should do the trick. But you’re not only sating your ornithological desires, you’ll be helping the birds too.
It’s really important that homeowners grow trees and shrubs as they provide many benefits to birds. These include a source of food, somewhere to nest, and shelter.
During the winter months, food is not as readily available to birds, so it’s our responsibility to provide them with fruit and seed-bearing trees to make up for this.
In this guide, we’ll go over some of the best trees and shrubs for birds but keep in mind that, whatever you choose, native plants are always the preferred option.
Trees & Shrubs to Plant to Attract Birds to your Backyard
Berries, fruits, and seeds are an important source of food for birds over the winter when other food sources, like insects, grow sparse. In the USA, there are lots of trees and shrubs you can plant that will attract birds and offer them something to eat.
1. Firethorn (Pyracantha spp.)
Firethorn, sometimes called pyracantha, is a woody plant that can grow up to 18 feet wide and 6 feet tall. It boasts a beautiful display of red and orange berries that birds go wild for. As a food source, this is no doubt one of the best for our feathered friends.
The bushes are able to adapt to varying conditions, but they’ll thrive best in zones 5 to 10 in full or part shade. These evergreen bushes are actually members of the rose family, with berries appearing anywhere from late summer to the middle of fall, depending on the variety.
They’re ideal for family gardens as there has been no toxicity shown should anyone accidentally consume the berries. However, overeating them may cause mild stomach upset. What’s more, while there was debate over whether fermented berries could intoxicate birds, this is not possible with the firethorn fruit since it’s actually a type of apple, not a berry.
2. Hollies (Ilex spp.)
There are several varieties of holly, including winterberry, the American holly, and the blue princess. Most varieties do well in zones 5 to 8, although some, such as the inkberry, can be grown up to zone 10. In any case, it’s important to keep in mind that only female holly bushes produce berries. You can tell them apart as the female flowers have a green bump in the center.
For birds, hollies provide several advantages. For starters, their brightly colored berries are an excellent food source (although they are toxic to humans), and the foliage provides the birds with somewhere safe to nest since the leaves are sharp and deter predators.
I’d recommend going for native species like American holly (Ilex opaca) or winterberry (Ilex verticillata). They’re very easy to maintain and will produce berries for months at a time.
3. Crabapples (Malus spp.)
Crabapple trees are deciduous and can grow anywhere between 6 and 30 feet. They produce edible fruit and a stunning floral display in spring, so they’re a common choice for landscaping. But they’re also ideal for birds because, not only can they eat the fruits, but the flowers attract insects which serve as another food source.
Birds also love crabapple trees during nesting season and will attract things like waxwings, cardinals, and robins. You may even see hummingbirds probing for nectar.
If you want to attract birds, choose your crabapple variety wisely. It’s been noted that birds are not as attracted to Red Jewel (Malus Jewelcole’), Donald Wyman (Malus ‘Donald Wyman’), and Adams (Malus ‘Adams’) varieties. Also, consider that these trees do best in zones 4 through 8.
Crabapples need to be cross-pollinated so you’ll usually need to have at least two trees in your garden if you want them to bear fruit.
4. Dogwoods (Cornus spp.)
There are 17 types of dogwood trees native to the USA, so plenty to choose from. However, you’ll want to choose one that is right for where you live. For example, if you live in zones 2 to 6 then something like Canadian bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) will thrive. Zones 4 through 8 are suitable for varieties such as the cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) or gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa). Stiff dogwood (Cornus foemina) does well in zones 6 to 10.
Once you have chosen your variety, you’ll notice the beautiful flowers that this tree produces which is one of the reasons it’s so popular in landscaping. The tree also produces fruit which acts as a food source for birds like thrushes, catbirds, cardinals, and robins. You’ll find that, in fall, the berries attract an array of migratory birds. The flowers attract insects which are perfect for birds too!
It’s worth keeping in mind that the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) can grow up to 40 feet in height, so make sure this is the right size for your garden.
5. Hawthorne (Crataegus spp.)
Hawthorns produce red berries that often persist over winter, making them an ideal food source for birds. These medium-sized trees can grow anywhere up to 30 feet and are really easy to take care of since they’re very hardy and also drought-tolerant. You won’t need to worry too much about conditions as they’ll grow in almost any soil. However, if you’re growing Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum), note that it’ll do better in zones 5 to 8.
As well as providing food for birds, the hawthorn will also provide you with a stunning floral spectacular in spring. The color of the flowers will depend on the variety, but they’re generally white, pink, or red. In fall, the leaves change to a rich red or purple tone.
If you are going to plant one of these trees, keep in mind that it won’t start producing fruit for some years so you’ll need to be patient.
6. Chokeberry (Aronia spp.)
If you live in zones 3 to 9 and want a smaller shrub for a compact yard then the chokeberry is a great option. They don’t tend to get much bigger than 10 feet in both height and width but more commonly stay around 6 to 8 feet. So that your chokeberry bush thrives, you’ll need to make sure it has partial to full sun.
Chokeberry bushes produce black and red berries that are high in protein, so excellent winter food for birds to keep their energy up. The berries are also edible for humans, however, I’d recommend adding some sort of sweetener to make them taste better.
Red chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia) and black chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa) are native to eastern parts of the country although black chokeberries are more common in mountainous regions.
These bushes will attract birds like cardinals as the berries provide health benefits such as being packed with antioxidants.
7. Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)
When you think of juniper berries, you might think of gin, but while they’re a treat for humans, these berries are also a firm avian favorite. Junipers can grow as trees and shrubs and are evergreen, so will keep your garden looking lively all year round.
As well as producing fruit for the birds, the common juniper is a great spot for our feathered friends to take cover and being evergreen, it does this throughout the year. The thick branches are also great for protecting and concealing birds.
Juniper berries won’t be the first choice for birds as they’re not the tastiest, but since they’re packed with nutrients, they’ll choose them in winter when other foods are sparse. They’ll attract jays, bluebirds, robins, warblers, and many others.
Juniper grows well in cooler climates and will thrive best in zones 3 to 9. The soil type doesn’t matter too much as the bushes will grow in varying pH levels and both sand and clay-based soil. They also cope well with drought.
8. Nannyberry, Arrowwood (Viburnum spp.)
For people who want a shrub that doesn’t require you to be exceptionally green-fingered, the nannyberry is a great choice. They’re very easy to grow and are low maintenance. What’s more, since they only grow to between 6 and 10 feet, they won’t take over your garden.
Nannyberry bushes produce fruit in the fall and may continue to do so over winter. This provides food for birds like robins, bluebirds, and cardinals. But the nannyberry, or arrowwood, is also a great spot for birds to nest and take cover.
The nannyberry is one of the largest types of viburnum and will grow in a whole host of soil conditions. However, it will do best when placed in full or partial sun.
9. Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.)
Serviceberry trees are mid-sized trees that can grow anywhere between 25 and 60 feet. They’re attractive to a variety of bird species, including robins, waxwings, tanagers, and cardinals thanks to their abundant fruit in the summer. Out of all the woody plants, serviceberries are among the first to produce fruit. However, these trees are also ideal for nesting.
There are different varieties of serviceberry including the inland (Amelanchier interior) and downy (Amelanchier arborea) serviceberries. The alleghany serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is also suitable for growing in North American gardens. These trees will thrive in zones 3 to 9 and can grow up to 25 feet.
10. Birch (Betula spp.)
By planting sweet birch, you will attract species such as the black-capped chickadee, American goldfinches, warblers, and scarlet tanagers. This is due to the seeds that the tree produces but also because of how many insects it attracts. These trees attract more than 400 species of butterflies and moths.
The birch often has loose bark which is the perfect hiding spot for insects and will bring in woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches over the course of the winter.
These trees also have a high sap content which means it’s not uncommon to see birds like the yellow-bellied sapsucker frequenting them.
As with other trees and shrubs on this list, I’d urge you to plant native varieties of birch which include river birch (Betula nigra), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). The latter will thrive in northern parts of the country while the river birch will do better in southern areas. Generally speaking, birch should be grown in zones 2 to 9 and will do best in full or partial sun.
11. Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
The spiky clusters of red fruit produced by the staghorn sumac attract fruit-eating birds like starlings, robins, bluebirds, cardinals, and chickadees. They start producing fruit in the fall and continue doing so throughout winter.
One of the best things about these shrubs is the beautiful fall colors which can really liven up your garden. They will grow up to around 30 feet and produce pretty yellow flowers in summer before the red ‘antlers’ come through in fall.
It’s worth keeping in mind that there is another plant called the poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), and the two should not be confused. The staghorn sumac has long been used in medicine, particularly in native American culture.
The staghorn sumac is a versatile plant that will tolerate both sunny and shady spots. It prefers drier soils that are gravelly or rocky, and it’s very tolerant of drought.
12. Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
If you’re looking for a vine that’ll add aesthetic value to your garden, then the Virginia creeper is ideal, as its foliage turns a rich red color in fall. Not only does the Virginia creeper provide food for birds but it’s also a preferred nesting spot for a whole host of species, including catbirds, bluebirds, robins, thrushes, wild turkeys, and woodpeckers, among others.
Virginia creepers start producing berries around August and continue to do so until February.
It’s worth keeping in mind that these vines can grow very rapidly and will reach heights of up to 60 feet as well as spread as wide as 50 feet. While it can tolerate short periods of drought, it’s best to keep it watered and make sure it’s planted in well-draining soil.
Not only will Virginia creepers attract birds, but they’ll also draw in animals like squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and deer.
13. Elderberries (Sambucus spp.)
The elderberry shrub is an ideal plant for smaller gardens as it doesn’t tend to get much bigger than 12 feet. It will thrive in zones 3 to 9 but note that they do best in full sun. Since these are low-rooted plants, it’s really important to water them well during the first season.
During the summer, elderberry bushes produce pretty white flowers, and these turn into purple berries by the end of summer. The flowers are not only attractive but also attract butterflies in droves which attract birds that eat caterpillars such as warblers and wrens.
The fruits produced by the elderberry bush attract a variety of songbirds, including robins, catbirds, and bluebirds.
Elderberry varieties that are suitable for growing in North America are the American black elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). While the berries are edible to humans, they are toxic before they darken and even then, it’s best to cook them.
14. White Oak (Quercus alba)
During the spring and summer, the white oak attracts a variety of insects and caterpillars which in turn attract birds like warblers. As fall comes round, these trees produce acorns which are an important food source for the white-breasted nuthatch and the tufted titmouse.
As well as this, white oaks, which are very large trees, often have a lot of cavities that provide suitable nesting spots for a lot of avian species. For birds that are looking to take cover, these trees give them everything they need.
Oak trees usually grow to between 50 and 90 feet in height but have quite a wide spread up to 80 feet so you’ll need plenty of room. Unlike other northern oak (Quercus rubra) species, the white oak can tolerate higher temperatures more easily and will thrive in zones 3 to 9.
15. Willows (Salix spp.)
Willows have been known to attract more than 450 types of caterpillars which attract birds. Moreover, during the spring, when the tree flowers, a whole host of other insects will come to the willow tree, again acting as a food source for our feathered friends. At this time of the year, your willow will draw in warblers and kinglets during migration.
As well as providing food for birds, willows are also brilliant nesting sites and thanks to their dense foliage, provide safe cover.
It’s important to choose native species like the American pussywillow (Salix discolor) or the black willow (Salix nigra) and avoid non-native species such as the weeping willow (Salix babylonica).
16. Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
The eastern red cedar is an evergreen tree that can get pretty large. These trees have very dense needles which makes them ideal for nesting but it’s the cones that the tree produces that really attract birds. The cedar waxwing actually takes its name from the fact that it feeds on this tree but you’ll also notice yellow-rumped warblers and northern mockingbirds.
Eastern red cedars should not be planted near crabapples since there is a risk of a fungal disease known as red apple rust when these species are planted close together. Mid-sized trees, the eastern red cedar will grow up to 50 feet in height and as wide as 20 feet. You can grow them in zones 2 to 9.
17. Mulberries (Morus spp.)
These deciduous trees produce fruits that look similar to blackberries, only longer and lots of bird species love to feed on them. This includes the Baltimore oriole, grosbeaks, and scarlet tanagers. On top of this, mulberry trees produce flowers that attract insects making them a wonderful food source in summer as well as winter.
Mulberry trees can grow up to 60 feet in height, so they’re rather large. You should also consider that when the fruit falls from the tree, it can get pretty messy, so you’ll need to be prepared for the maintenance. But it’s worth it as these are some of the best trees to attract birds and are often planted solely for this purpose.
As well as food, mulberry trees provide excellent nesting sites for birds.
When choosing a mulberry tree, be mindful that white mulberries are not native. Therefore, it’s better to go for the red mulberry (Morus rubra).
18. Spruces (Picea spp.)
While spruces tend to fruit during the fall, the fruits will also persist through winter so are ideal as a food source for birds. However, you should consider that spruces can get very large and, in some cases, can get as high as 150 feet, so it’s important to ensure you have the space to accommodate them.
Spruces will produce cones that attract birds like crossbills. However, in the spring, the trees attract a lot of insects, so will also attract things like warblers during migration. Their needles also provide birds with a safe spot to nest and take shelter.
19. Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
If you’re looking to attract hummingbirds to your garden then the wild black cherry tree is ideal as they’ll come for the nectar. The tree produces small black fruits at the end of summer as well as white flowers in spring. These attract caterpillars which in turn, draw in birds like orioles and cuckoos.
The fruit will attract pretty much every species of fruit-eating birds, most notably the bluebird, woodpecker, and rose-breasted grosbeak.
The wild black cherry tree can grow anywhere between 25 and 110 feet. However, if you grow them on their own, they’ll also spread quite wide, whereas when grown in groups, they tend to be narrower. They do well in shady spots but should be planted in well-drained soil. These trees do best in zones 3 to 9.