5 Berry Bushes for the Birds

Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Migration is upon us, and if you keep an eye on any fruit-bearing plants this time of year you will most definitely see birds gobbling up the tasty fruit. We are all about feeding the birds - that includes the natural way! Bird feeders filled with healthy seeds, nuts, and suet are great, but studies have shown that birds who have access to feeders still only get up to 30% of their diet from supplemental sources. The other 70% is made up of natural foods like insects, seeds, and fruit. Berries are a highly sought after food item particularly during the fall and winter months when there is a shift in our native birds' diets as insect availability declines. These five native berry shrubs are sure to invite the birds to your yard, and gift you beautiful views for years to come. 

Cedar Waxwing feeding on serviceberry - Photo by Ramon Delgado

1. Serviceberry
A large shrub with smooth bark, and bright green foliage that turn an attractive orange in the fall. The beautiful white blooms that occur in May, cover the branches from top to bottom and are highly attractive to pollinator species & other insects. This will also attract a variety of birds who feed on the insects who are visiting the flowers. By mid-summer, the flowers turn into berries that are bright red, turning purple as they ripen - though, not many make it to the fully ripe stage before being picked off by the birds!
  • Birds who love it: Cedar & Bohemian Waxwings, Brown Thrasher, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Warblers, Northern Cardinal

  • Size and requirements
    Height: Up to 30 feet tall
    Soil: Sandy loam, loam, clay loam
    Moisture: Medium
    Light: Part shade to full sun

Young vireo feeding on prickly ash berries

2. Prickly Ash
Despite its name, Prickly Ash is not related to ash trees - but it is definitely prickly. This shrub is a good one for areas that don't require much landscaping, as it is colony forming and is covered in thorns that are half an inch in length. Though they can be less than ideal for ornamental uses, they are highly valued by birds and other wildlife for their plentiful, juicy fruit (not technically a berry despite the resemblance) that forms from August to October, making them a perfect food for the fall migration period.
  • Birds who love it: Chickadees, Warblers, Orioles, Vireos, Gray Catbirds (and chipmunks!)

  • Size and requirements
    Height: Up to 20 feet
    Soil: Loam, clay loam, sandy, rocky
    Moisture: Medium to wet
    Light: Part shade to full sun (does best in full sun)

Red Osier Dogwood

3. Red Osier Dogwood
A beautiful shrub year-round, with dense green foliage throughout the summer, and brilliant red branches in the winter. Small white flowers bloom in June, attracting many insect species and providing food for pollinators. Small clusters of white-coloured berries are ripe by fall, attracting a host of migratory and non-migratory bird species. 
  • Birds who love it: Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Towhees, American Robins, Rusty Blackbirds, Wild Turkey

  • Size and requirements
    Height: Approximately 9 feet
    Soil: Sandy loam, loam, clay loam
    Moisture: Medium to wet
    Light: Part shade to full sun

High Bush Cranberry
4. Highbush Cranberry
A gorgeous addition to any landscape with its large, lush green foliage that turns a lovely purple-red in the fall, and beautiful white blooms in May-June. Blooms are quite unique in appearance, with clusters of tiny whitish-green florets surrounded by larger white florets. Bountiful clusters of bright red berries are produced in the fall, getting softer and sweeter and the seasons progress. 
  • Birds who love it: American Robins & other thrush species, Cedar Waxwings, Grosbeaks, Woodpeckers

  • Size and requirements
    Height: Up to 12 feet
    Soil: Loam, clay loam, sandy
    Moisture: Medium to wet
    Light: Part shade to full sun

Pileated Woodpecker feeding on Staghorn Sumac berries

5. Staghorn Sumac
A well-known native species, seen commonly throughout the province with its bright green tropical-like foliage and fuzzy red fruit in the fall. Green flowers are produced in late spring which attract and supply food to pollinator species, and the fuzzy red berries are ready for consumption by fall. The fruit is plentiful and lasts long into the winter, making it a great "famine food" when natural food sources are being depleted. This species is a spreader, so if you have a small area for planting it would be best to choose a different species of fruit-bearing shrub, or prepare for yearly maintenance to keep it in a controlled area. Learn all about Staghorn Sumac in our previous blog
  • Birds who love it: Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, Grosbeaks

  • Size and requirements
    Height: Up to 15 feet
    Soil: Sandy loam
    Moisture: Dry to medium
    Light: Part shade to full sun

Enjoy fall migration & don't forget to keep a close eye on those berry bushes - you never know what species you'll see!

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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