Fruit as food in our wildlife habitat garden

Cedar waxwing eyeing wild cherries ©Janet AllenCedar waxwing eyeing wild cherries

Over the years, We've added many native shrubs that produce nutritious berries throughout the year, from serviceberries in the spring to winterberries in the winter.

By planting a variety of native trees and shrubs, we have some form of fruit available throughout the year.

Besides berries, their spring flowers are good nectar sources, and the shrubs themselves provide cover.

Fruit in spring

Chickadee eating bayberries ©Janet AllenChickadee eating bayberries

Much of the fruit in the spring is actually fruit produced in the previous year. These bayberries (Myrica pensylvanica), for example, are produced the previous summer, and they last all through the following summer.

Bayberries (NOT BARberries!) are a favorite of two of my favorite birds: chickadees and catbirds.

A robin with remaining winterberries in the spring ©Janet Allen A robin eating some of the remaining winterberries in the spring

I don't know if this was one of the robins that stayed all winter or a new arrival, but he was glad there were still some wizened-up winterberries (Ilex verticillata) left on the bush in early May.

Late winter and early spring can be a difficult time to find food, so they eat what they can find.

Fruit in summer

Serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis) ©Janet AllenServiceberries

Serviceberries and pagoda dogwood berries are on the menu in summer. Catbirds and robins are especially fond of these berries, but other birds like them, too.

Serviceberries (Amelanchier), also known as Juneberries, are the first summer fruits that develop in our yard.

We grow a number of species: shadblow (A. canadensis), saskatoon (A. alnifolia), Allegheny (A. laevis), and the apple serviceberry (A. x grandiflora), a naturally-occurring hybrid of A. laevis and A. arborea.

Pagoda dogwood berries ©Janet AllenPagoda dogwood berries

I love pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). It's puzzling that so few people grow it.

It grows well in sun to partial shade. It has a beautiful horizontal branching structure (the reason for its name), nectar-rich flowers in the spring, and beautiful dark, nutritious, blue berries for birds.

Blueberries ©Janet AllenBlueberries, but not for the birds

Theoretically a good plant for birds, but these blueberries are in our edible garden, so they're for us. We built this structure, covered it with bird netting, and stake it down at the bottom as securely as we can. We have it up for only about a month during harvest.

It works pretty well, though each year a few birds are bright enough to find their way in, but not bright enough to find their way out. We keep a close watch on it so we can rescue any birds that find their way in.

Bumble bee  ©Janet Allen
A bumble bee pollinating the blueberries

We do have a few blueberry bushes outside the netting, and although they weren't initially intended as bird food, we've given up on them and just let the birds eat them.

And we have a great crop of blueberries since we have a willing crew of pollinators in the yard!

Fruit in fall

Gray dogwood berries ©Janet AllenGray dogwood berries are just one example

Dogwoods are a large and wonderful group of plants, valuable for many creatures, but especially for birds. I have quite a few varieties—some understory trees, some shrubs.

Most of these dogwoods (except for the pagoda dogwood) fruit in the fall. Dogwood shrubs are generally about 6-10 feet tall, and also provide nectar and cover.

Kousa dogwood ©Janet AllenKousa dogwood: NOT wanted

And speaking of dogwoods, the one kind of dogwood that we do NOT want is Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa).

It offers nothing to wildlife even as in millions of home and community landscapes it replaces the native dogwoods that are so important to wildlife.

Cranberry viburnum ©Janet Allen
Cranberry viburnum

Our native viburnums traditionally have been a valuable wildlife plant.

Unfortunately, a few years ago the non-native viburnum leaf beetle arrived here in Central New York and devastated many viburnums, especially native varieties, but some have begun to recover.

Fruit in winter

Cardinal eating winterberries ©Janet AllenA cardinal eating winterberries

Our bayberries (described above), winterberries, and junipers/cedars provide fruit for birds in winter.

The mockingbird often claims this bush, and the robin has to find the right time to sneak in for a few berries. Cardinals like them, too.

Juniper  ©Janet AllenEastern red cedar / juniper

As the name suggests, it's a favorite of cedar waxwings.