Providing natural food for garden birds, in addition to keeping bird feeders well topped up, can make a huge difference to birds’ survival in the winter weather ahead. Choose your shrubs well and you can also create shelter in bad weather, roosting sites for frosty nights, and nesting places for next spring. By Jenny Steel, wildlife gardener
Native shrubs can support large numbers of small insects – great for feeding nestlings – as well as encouraging birds such as tits, warblers and sparrows. In the winter, large flocks of redwings and fieldfares, the beautiful thrushes that visit our warmer shores from Scandinavia, relish the berries that our countryside offers. Plant these shrubs now in existing hedges, create new hedges, or add them to a garden corner to create a dense, bird-friendly mini-woodland.
1. Holly Slow growing, but probably the ultimate in bird-friendly hedging. Dense, prickly and evergreen, it ensures windproof shelter on cold winter nights. On top of that, holly provides the familiar bright red berries that we love at Christmas time, but the blackbirds and thrushes are likely to get them before you do. Holly, whether in a hedge or as a stand alone shrub, has great nest sites plus its spring flowers provide nectar and pollen for a variety of insects, including the little holly blue butterfly.
2. Hawthorn Grow this in a hedge or as a small tree if you have space. The dark red haws are sought out by flocks of redwings and fieldfares in the winter and hawthorn’s prickly stems ensure good nesting places for finches, dunnocks, robins and blackbirds. Also has lots of small caterpillars for spring nestlings.
3. Guelder Rose This native shrub also has red berries but they ripen early and are softer than those of holly and hawthorn, making them more appealing to smaller birds, including blackcaps, garden warblers and robins, plus song thrushes and, if you are lucky, waxwings. Again, this shrub attracts plenty of insects for adult birds feeding their chicks.
4. Dogwood A great native shrub for a garden as it can be cut down in early spring to produce attractive red stems for the following winter. The black berries are eaten by many birds including finches, robins, pigeons, thrushes and starlings.
5. Ivy Mature ivy has a mass of very late ripening berries when many other natural food sources have been depleted. Garden birds, especially song thrushes and wood pigeons, enjoy these. There is also plenty of shelter for nests and roosting when this useful climber is grown up against a fence or wall.
There are a good range of non-native shrubs and trees that produce colourful, nutritious berries for your garden birds, supplying them with winter food as well as nest sites and shelter.
6. Cotoneaster horizontalis The herringbone cotoneaster is a must-have for autumn colour in even the smallest garden. It produces masses of red berries plus sheltered nesting and roosting sites when grown against a wall. Blackbirds and thrushes will defend this shrub vigorously to make sure they get all the berries.
7. Sorbus Sheerwater Seedling Our native rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) is a wonderful small tree for a garden, but the variety sheerwater seedling takes up less space yet still has all the advantages. Mistle thrushes, blackbirds, nuthatches, starlings and waxwings strip the berries in autumn.
8. Pyracantha Orange Glow This is an attractive prickly shrub providing protection from predators and plenty of food for birds. The orange berries are devoured by finches, sparrows, starlings, blackcaps and song thrushes; the white spring flowers buzz with small insects and it has good nesting places.
9. Berberis darwinii This spiky evergreen shrub is ideal for a hedge or bird friendly corner. It has lots of bright orange bee-attracting flowers in spring and bunches of blue berries for blackbirds, thrushes and waxwings in autumn. It’s also a favourite roosting place in harsh weather and provides excellent protected nest sites.
10. Malus Planting a sweet, early ripening eating apple this month is an excellent way of providing food for your garden birds. Early varieties such as beauty of bath or discovery don’t keep well, so pick and eat what you need and leave the rest for your blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes, chaffinches, redwings and fieldfares.
For more information on how to care for birds in your garden, click here
To find out how best to feed the most common birds that visit your garden, click here
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