Most homeowners enjoy attracting birds to their landscaping throughout the spring and summer. During the winter months, birds need our help the most, since they spend nearly all of their time and energy searching for food, shelter and especially water. With a little planning, your yard can become a prime spot for birds to store fat and also find a safe and protected home during those cold months of January and February. The key is to select a mix of shrubs and trees that offer birds the protection and food they need to survive over the winter months. The benefit is YOU will enjoy seeing and hearing birds all year long, because the plant material you choose will also bring colorful fruits and leaves to your winter landscaping. This is where Antler Country Landscaping, Inc. can go to work for YOU!
Think in Layers
Different types of birds prefer to seek shelter and food at different heights, so think of your yard or garden in terms of these naturally occurring layers. Verticality is important!
1. A tree canopy of tall trees, an under-canopy of smaller trees, a shrub layer, and vines or ground covers for flowers. The greater the mix of vegetation you can provide at various heights, the greater the variety of birds you’re likely to attract.
2. Aim for a tiered effect, with larger trees at the border, followed by smaller trees and clumps of bushes, then tall grasses and low flowers. This layered look will also serve well in a berm, or on the outside border of your property line. The final benefit will be for a natural privacy fence we can create for your bird/human enjoyment!
From Seeds to Nuts
During the winter, birds are on a constant hunt for food. Their entire day is spent searching for food, shelter and water. Seed and nut bearing trees are essential for their survival!
Evergreens, especially conifers-from pines (Pinus) and junipers (Juniperus) to firs (Abies), spruces (Picea) and hemlock (Tsuga)–are a must in any bird-friendly landscape. The seeds from pines are a valuable source of winter food for many types of birds, including chickadees, pine siskins, grosbeaks, and woodpeckers. If you want birds to visit and STAY in your back yard, these are excellent examples of “bird friendly” trees. Another benefit is these types of trees do double duty, by providing birds with shelter during winter storms. Deciduous trees, which shed their leaves, may not offer much protection from the elements, but varieties such as oaks (Quercus), walnuts (Juglans regia), hickories (Carya) and hazelnuts (Corylus), all provide nuts that are an excellent source of fuel for birds.
A Bounty of Berries
Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs are a major source of food for birds; look for varieties that hold onto their fruit through the winter. Many of these winter fruits will first appear earlier in the season, but the berries will not actually become palatable to birds until they’ve gone through several freeze-and-thaw cycles. Examples of shrubs with berries that persist throughout winter include winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), photinia, bayberry (Morella), and viburnum. Other options include several types of chokeberry bushes(Aronia), which generally all tolerate shade.
There are numerous options of native Dogwood varieties. Two to try – Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), which has white berries and purple fall foliage; and Red-twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), a colorful standout in any winter garden with its bright red canes. It is important to check the ZONE capabilities of all varieties of plants to insure the will survive in Nebraska’s winters. We plant red-twig dogwood very frequently around power boxes, cable boxes, etc. where they do NOT have to be trimmed.
Flowering crabapple trees are not only attractive additions to a garden, their fruit is also very popular with birds. Consider varieties such as hawthorn crabapple (Malus florentina) or sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii), which feature small, bright red fruit that birds can swallow whole.
Go Wild With Native Grasses
Native grasses emerge later in the season, and their flowers’ seeds make a wonderful wintertime food source for birds. To ensure your grasses are truly bird-friendly, don’t cut them back in the fall; instead, leave them up for the winter, and cut them back in early spring. That way, you’ll be providing both welcome coverage and food.
An added bonus for homeowners: by fall and early winter, the grasses’ green leaves can turn tan, red or purple, depending on the species. You now have a significant color display to enjoy throughout the winter months!
Some native grass varieties to consider for cold climates: switch grass (Panicum) and hair grass (Deschampsia), as well as a shorter ornamental grass called Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium coparium), and its taller cousin, Big Bluestem (Andropogron gerardii).