For the first time since last Tuesday, there were no birders in the alley this morning, peering into the back yard. Perhaps our fifteen minutes (well, six days) of fame are over.
The whole experience with the Varied Thrush has inspired me to write about the plants I have in my back yard that are beautiful but that also help create an environment that is attractive to birds. These plants are just a small sample of the many that can serve this purpose, of course. All are native to the American midwest, or are hybrids or varieties of native plants. Here are my top five:
1. Serviceberry (Amelanchier xgrandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’). I love this plant. It has white flowers in early spring, edible berries in late spring, and terrific fall color. Birds love the berries, which look and taste sort of like small blueberries. ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a hybrid cultivar of two Amelanchier species. We have some right next to our east porch window and enjoy watching the robins feeding on the berries.
2. Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). My favorite Viburnum. Beautiful lacecap flowers in spring, translucent red berries ripen in late summer, and the maple-like foliage turns a mix of burgundy and other colors. I have both the straight species and the variety ‘Redwing’, which is recommended by the Chicago Botanic Garden. The literature usually says that the berries are not eaten until after a freeze has made them more palatable, but mine get eaten in fall. This is a favorite of the Cedar Waxwing.
3. Wild Currant (Ribes americanum). This is a terrific and underused shrub. Very compact (usually 3-4′ tall), it is also tough and thrives in shade. It is not a showy plant, but does have dangling clusters of chartreuse flowers in early spring, as well as handsome foliage. The black berries ripen over a long period in summer. They are edible, but very sour. I enjoy watching the Robins, Northern Cardinals, and other birds hopping from branch to branch when the fruit is ripe.
4. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). The leaves of this shrub have a strong citrus fragrance when crushed. This plant has fuzzy little yellow flowers in early spring, kind of like an understated Forsythia. The red berries ripen in fall, and are quickly eaten by migrating birds. Another plus for Spicebush is that it is a host plant for the Spicebush butterfly. Haven’t seen any caterpillars on my Spicebush yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
5. Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa L.). I suppose it is a bit weedy, but I like it anyway. The pyramid-shaped cream flower clusters and glowing red berries are gorgeous. Birds love the berries, but they are toxic to people.
6. Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera Sempervirens). The tubular red flowers are loved by hummingbirds, and the berries are eaten by birds. This native vine needs little pampering, and will take some shade. After a lovely flush of bloom in late spring, it will bloom intermittently all season.
Of course, what performs well in the Chicago region will not necessarily do the same elsewhere. If you’re interested in “birdscaping”, I can recommend three books you may like. The first is The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds, by Stephen Kress. Be sure to get the second edition, which came out in 2006. Then there’s Bird by Bird Gardening, by Sally Roth. Finally for my follow Midwesterners, there’s Birdscaping in the Midwest, by Mariette Nowak.
So what are your favorite bird-friendly plants?