There are a huge range of plants which can be great for a bird-friendly garden. In essence, almost any tree or shrub, and plenty of seed producing plants, can be a boon for feathered friends. But in this article, I want to share 15 of my top choices when it comes to garden plants for a bird-friendly garden:
Rowan for a Bird-Friendly Garden
Rowan is an attractive tree, great for small gardens. I often see blackbirds, thrushes, and many other birds in its branches. The rowan is one of the most important food sources for fruit-eating birds in northern Europe. The availability of rowan berries affects annual migratory behaviour of many birds on a grand scale. Fieldfare and redwing come to the British Isles after the dwindling of supplies of rowan berries in Scandinavia and elsewhere. So planting a rowan tree in your garden could give you the opportunity to see and welcome these seasonal visitors.
Crab apples are another great-value tree for small gardens. This is another attractive tree, which can provide food for foraging humans and for a range of fruit-eating birds. Of course, fruit trees will also support a wide range of insect life and other creatures, and help to keep the ecosystem in balanace.
Bird Friendly Hawthorn
Hawthorn is another great hedgerow shrub or small tree. The leaves are food for humans early in the spring, and are also a good food source for a wide range of moths, and other wildlife. Many birds can be seen collecting caterpillars for their young in spring. The haws also provide winter food for many favourites, including blackbirds, chaffinches, greenfinches and starlings.
Though not native, Pyracantha is another great shrub for birds, with its bright red or orangish berries, which provide another source of food for a wide range of British birds. The bright berries are produced in abundance. And the evergreen branches also provide birds with plenty of nesting spots and shelter throughout the year.
Bird Friendly Blackberries
Blackberries are not only useful for us. Bramble thickets are also wonderful for birds and other wildlife in your garden. In a slightly larger garden, a rambling blackberry planted in a corner or in the edge of the space can be a boon for birds and many other creatures. Robins, wrens, thrushes, blackbirds, finches and a number of other birds will nest within a bramble thicket. And of course many species will enjoy eating the berries too.
Roses for a Bird Friendly Garden
Rosa canina, Rosa rugosa, Rosa tomentosa, Rosa arvensis and many other wild roses/ species roses are all wonderful for a mixed hedgerow or garden border for birds. The rose hips are a food source for a number of larger birds, such as blackbirds, redwings and waxwings. And of course, when in flower, these will bring in a range of insects for birds and other wildlife to eat.
The Guelder rose is not actually a rose at all but rather a native Viburnum. But like the roses mentioned above, this is another great choice for a bird-friendly garden. Many birds will eat the glossy red berries of this deciduous shrub. But they are particularly loved by bullfinches and mistle thrushes.
Holly for a Bird Friendly Garden
Female holly bushes produce berries in the autumn, as long as there is a male nearby for fertilization. But the berries remain over the winter, and are not just good for Christmas decorations but also for the birds. Blackbirds, song thrushes, fieldfares and redwings can be seen feeding on them – especially towards the end of winter.
Cotoneaster is another shrub to consider. It is also laden with red berries that birds will particularly enjoy. The berries are produced in abundance and remain on the plant through winter. Blackbirds, thrushes and waxwings are just some birds that take advantage of the bounty.
Ivy for a Bird-Friendly Garden
Ivy on a wall or fence provides plenty of space for shelter and nesting. The ivy on the north east facing wall of our home has nests every year. What is more, robins, wrens etc. are often seen feeding on the insects this climber attracts and supports. When the berries appear in the winter, many more birds benefit from this winter feast – thrushes, starlings, blackbirds and more all enjoy eating the berries.
This is a great climber, either for hedgerows or for a wall or fence. Its beautiful and fragrant flowers attract plenty of insects, which serve as a food source for a wide range of different birds. It also provides its berries, and shelter for thrushes, bullfinches etc. in the autumn months.
Teasel for a Bird-Friendly Garden
It is not just berry bushes/climbers that will produce a bounty of food for birds in your garden. The striking seed heads of these plants form in autumn, and can last through until December if the weather permits. Goldfinches, sparrows and buntings all feed on the seed heads. And during the summer, the purple flowers are extremely attractive to bees and butterflies, and attract aphids and the ladybirds (and insect eating birds) which prey on them.
Many perennials set seeds that birds in your garden will love to eat. Perennial asters are just one of a number of avenues to explore. Planting mixed perennial borders and leaving them to set seed and stand looking a little wilder over the winter will definitely entice more birds to your garden. Remember, asters are just one option. Planting plenty of diverse herbaceous perennials in your garden will be wonderful for avian visitors and other wildlife.
Thistles for a Bird-Friendly Garden
Thistles are often thought of as a weed. But many thistles or thistle-like plants can be attractive additions to your garden. A number of different birds eat thistle seeds, and use thistle down in their nests, including greenfinches, siskin, linnets, twite and redpoll. The goldfinch in particular will benefit – as thistle seeds make up one third of its diet. Of course, thistles also bring a wide range of insect life to your garden.
Even in an annual garden or even the vegetable plot, there are plenty of plants which can bring benefits to native birds. Sunflowers are one great example. They attract insects over the summer, then bring in a range of birds which will eat the seeds a little later in the year. They are attractive to a range of birds, including many finches and tits.
Of course, these are just some of the great garden plants for a bird-friendly garden. Though these are all excellent options, there are plenty of others that can be just as good. The key lies in choosing the right options for where you live. And incorporating as many different plants as possible.
Remember, bringing in birds means bringing in other beneficial wildlife, and the food sources upon which different birds depend. It also means creating a broad range of habitats, to accommodate as many different bird species as possible.
Which bird-friendly plants do you have in your garden? Which birds do they attract? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.