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Winter Landscapes That Prove Berry Good For Birds

Native shrubs can help to provide sustenance and protein for birds during winter months, as well as give them protection from predators and the harsh elements of winter weather. Photo by Jeff Tome

Winter arrived early this year, rushing nature to snuggle in for the cold months ahead.

As we enjoy the last few leaves of fall and remaining sprigs of goldenrod and aster, we also hurry to clean up and put our gardens to bed for the winter.

Although we will lose our orioles and grosbeaks to the chill, we gain a plethora of juncos, chickadees and cardinals. And as the sky covers our lawns with white, many of us are determined to unbury our bird feeders and help our feathered friends endure the forthcoming long, cold months of western New York.

Backyard bird feeding is a wonderful way to connect to your surroundings and be interactive in your own yard. Preparing and filling your feeders with sunflower seeds and thistle, as well as cakes of suet and fat are perfect foods to offer to your feathered friends. But as we watch and observe our flying visitors, it’s never too early to think about what other beneficial things we can do to help our local birds and wildlife besides just offering seed and suet.

During the colder months, birds and other mammals must find food. Berries, seeds and protected tree limbs and shrubs are more difficult to find and not as plentiful as in the warmer months. We can help by modifying our home gardens and substitute in some shrubs with sustenance and protein for the birds. At the same time, these shrubs will be a haven for wildlife and protect them from predators and the harsh elements of winter. These native shrubs are not only valuable for birds but also beautiful additions to our landscapes, particularly during the holidays.

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) is my favorite species of holly. A deciduous evergreen that holds its bright red berries on its leafless stems and is a stunning contrast against the winter white. It dries well and is used quite often for holiday decorations. These shrubs are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. Thus, in order to have fruit, you must have a female plant as well as a male pollinator. These shrubs are beautiful in mass plantings, and usually one male plant will pollinate at least five female plants. You will love the showy splash of color in your winter landscape, and the birds will love you for growing it!

Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is a semi-evergreen that is noted for its ornamental silver berries that persist into winter and attract many species of birds. Fruit is only produced on female plants, so one male and one female shrub are required. This dense shrub provides great protection for many garden critters, and its foliage, stems and berries are bayberry-scented when crushed, making it a natural insect repellent.

Cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), also known as Highbush Cranberry, is a larger shrub that is a beautiful all-season addition to any garden. Beautiful white flat-topped flowers develop into tasty red fruits in the summer months. Fall brings stunning maroon/red colored leaves, and the desiccated red fruit hang on and serve as food for wildlife in winter. We can also consume these berries, and they make a wonderful jam/jelly.

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) are multi-seasonal shrubs that have beautiful white flowers in early spring, glossy green foliage in summer, spectacular orange-red autumn hues and dazzling pendulous blue/purple fruits that attract wildlife and persist well into winter months.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) can be found as small trees or shrubs and provides interest throughout the seasons in just about any type of landscape.

They are one of the first to bloom beautiful white in the spring, followed by numerous crimson berries in the summer, and their rusty red and orange fall color is spectacular! If the birds don’t devour all the berries in the summer, these will persist through winter and offer sweet snacks to many winter birds.

In addition to introducing new native shrubs to your landscape, gardeners can also provide food and habitat to native wildlife by stepping away from a clean, tightly pruned garden and embrace the benefit, beauty and utility of leaving the dead stalks and brown flower heads standing in their winter garden. Feeding birds is a wonderful hobby that many western New Yorkers enjoy. Take it a step further this year by leaving your fall beauty on the ground, and in the spring, plant these stunning native shrubs to help winter be a little more tolerant for the birds and us.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.

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