Choosing Shrubs For the Birds

Attracting birds to your garden is as easy as planting shrubs that birds are drawn to


The Ilex family is a group of plants that ties in perfectly with attracting birds. Try one of the evergreen hollies like ‘Blue Princess.’ Birds love the protection that the foliage provides year-round and the red berries make a wonderful accent during the fall and winter months.

Ilex verticillata, commonly known as Winterberry Holly, is a native shrub that loses its leaves each autumn. After the leaves have turned yellow and dropped, you are left with a breathtaking view of thousands of brightly-colored berries clinging to every stem. Varieties like ‘Winter Red’ or dwarf varieties like ‘Red Sprite’ are great for bird habitat and as a food supply. Plus, their brilliant red berries can be used to accent some evergreens during the Christmas season.

Birds that love Hollies include: Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing and Woodpeckers


Viburnums are the stalwart of any good shrub border and not surprisingly they are also equally important plants for creating good bird habitat. Viburnums provide everything from the canopy that shelters the nests of smaller songbirds to a plethora of colored berries that birds love to feast upon. The fruit on Viburnum ranges in color from yellow, and pink, to red and blue with many aging to black. One of our favorites is the blue fruiting variety ‘Blue Muffin.’

Birds that love Viburnums include: Cardinals, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing and Pine Grosbeaks


Sambucus or Elderberries are a group of plants that are wonderful for birds. They flower in late spring and in summer are covered with large clusters of berries. Some varieties offer cut-leaf foliage in greens and in golds like Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace.’ Then there are varieties that have dark purple foliage and fragrant pink flowers like Sambucus ‘Laced Up.’

Birds that love Elderberries include: Indigo Bunting, Orioles, Eastern Bluebird, Grosbeaks and Song Sparrows


How many of you realize that hummingbirds love the nectar provided by new hibiscus syriacus varieties like ‘Lavender and White Chiffon,’ and older varieties like ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Helene.’ Hibiscus puts on a stunning flower show from mid-summer on. Add in Hibiscus moscheutos and you’ll have a stunning display of color.

Birds that love it include: Hummingbirds


The flowers of a Weigela with their trumpet-shaped flowers are loved by hummingbirds. One of the best is Weigela ‘Sonic Bloom’ which covers itself in a profusion of tubular red flowers in late spring and then subsequent waves of reblooming from mid-summer to frost. Even more impressive is Weigela Wine & Roses because it not only has rich fuschia-magenta flowers but the flowers are complimented by dark wine burgundy foliage. This combination of flowers and foliage makes Wine & Roses attractive even when they are not in flower. There are many other varieties of Weigela such as ‘Spilled Wine’ that are available to fit smaller landscapes that are more compact in size reaching only three feet at maturity.

Birds that love it include: Hummingbirds

Remember — birds like shelter as well as food, so make sure your yard has some evergreen shrubs and trees to help protect birds from the wind, as well as plants with winter berries (like those listed) to provide a winter source of food.

Interest in birdwatching has increased greatly in recent years. Most bird watchers do more than merely watch; they feed and study birds, even landscape their yards to attract a variety of birds to observe them more closely.

Richard M. DeGraaf, Author of Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Attracting Birds