Plants for Birds

Birds are looking for more than a bird feeder to bring them to your yard.  They want trees, shrubs and plants to provide shelter, nesting areas and food.


Although birds will enjoy the food you put out for them and the bird houses and nesting boxes you install, these are only supplements to what they rely on for basic food, shelter, nesting and singing perches.  They get the bulk of their food from plants and insects and need variety year round.  Some bird species prefer to take shelter and nest in tall trees, some in dense shrubs.

Plants will attract birds and encourage them to stay in a variety of ways.  Certain species look for specific plants or foods, but there are many plants that will help you attract birds in general.  There are a few things you can keep in mind when selecting plants to attract birds for your gardens and landscape.

  • Include a variety of height in the plant landscape to accommodate the preferences of different species.

  • Include evergreens to provide windbreaks as well as nesting sites and shelter.

  • Select a variety of shrubs and trees with berries that ripen in different seasons. Include plants that have berries that persist through winter. Select plants with a variety of fruit sizes.

  • Use as many native plants and trees as possible, native birds are accustomed to looking for them.

  • Planting in groups will help birds to spot bright fruits from a distance.

  • Flowering shrubs, annuals and perennials all can be food sources for birds. They may get food from buds, flowers and nectar. And the bright colors can help attract the birds.

There are specific plants that accommodate specific needs for birds.  And specific bird species will sometimes have certain preferences.  If you want to attract specific birds you need to know what they prefer and provide it.  The next page will help you with that, but these are some plants that will help you attract a variety of birds.


Alpine Currant produces fruits that ripen in June and July on the female plants.

American Cranberry is a large shrub that produces red berries.

Amur Chokecherry ornamental tree has fruits that ripen in August.  The Red Chokeberry fruits ripen later and persist through January.

American Elderberry Tree produces fruit that attracts many species of birds including the Red-bellied and Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebird and Northern Cardinal.

American Hornbeam is a small ornamental tree that offers nutlets an shelter.  It is especially favored by the grosbeak, cardinal and goldfinch.


Arborvitae provide excellent shelter for birds.

Asters native to the region produce seeds eaten by cardinals, goldfinches, sparrows, chicadees, nuthatches, and Indigo Buntings.

Barberry produce seeds that persist into winter and provide shelter.

Beautyberry attracts robins, cardinals, mockingbirds, Bobwhites, bluebirds, cedar waxwings and thrushes.

Birch Trees produce seeds that are favored by the Pine Siskins and Fox and American Tree Sparrows.

Black Cherry is an ornamental tree native to the Midwest.  It produces fruit that ripens in the summer.

Black Eyed Susan is a favorite of finches and also eaten by chicadees, cardinals, sparrows and nuthatches.


Compass Plant / Prairie Dock are loved by finches.

Cup Plant is a native prairie plant from the Aster family.  The leaves collect rain for birds to drink.  Birds also eat the seeds.  Insects also live on the plant for the water source, and birds hunt the insects.

Chokecherry attracts birds with fruit and flower buds.  The fruit is tart and attracts many bird species, including bluebirds, meadowlark and cedar waxwing.

Coralberry is native to the Midwest.  The berries ripen from late August into fall.

Coreopsis native to the region will attract birds.

Crabapple flowering trees develop fruit and provides nesting sites.

Elderberry ripens fruit July through September and provides nesting sites.

European Mountain Ash is a medium sizes ornamental tree that produces fruit that ripens in September.  The fruit persists into winter but is often eaten before winter.


Evergreen Trees produce cones and provide shelter and nesting sites.

Hackberry Trees ripen fruits in late summer, often persisting into winter.  Also provides shelter and nesting sites.  The fruit is a particular favorite of the Northern Flicker, Northern Mockingbird, Swainson’s Thrush and Northern Cardinal.

Hawthorn ornamental tree has fruit that ripens in fall and persists until spring, as well as many insects.  Hawthorn attracts the Cedar Waxwing, Fox Sparrow and Ruffed Grouse.  Thorned Hawthorn offers cover and protection for nesting.

Japanese Lilac trees produce seeds for birds.

Japanese Yew evergreen shrubs produce fruit that ripens in August through November as well as shelter and nesting sites.

Juniper evergreen shrubs produce fruit and provide shelter and nesting sites.  The berries are favored by the Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing and Purple Finch.

Lead Plant is native to the Midwest.  Seeds that persist into winter are favored by goldfinch, sparrows, titmouse and junco.

Little Bluestem  is a 3 foot grass that produces seed tufts that small birds enjoy.

Maple Trees seeds ripen in fall and often persist into winter.  The buds, sap and insects on the foliage all appeal to birds as well as providing nesting sites.

Ninebark are a favorite nesting shrub for many birds.

Oak Trees offer acorns and insects, as well as shelter and nesting sites.  Acorns of the White Oak are eaten by Northern Flicker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Blue Jays as well as other birds.  Bur Oak acorns are a favorite of the Wood Duck.

Pagoda Dogwood / Flowering Dogwood Pagoda Dogwood is a small tree with berries that ripen in mid-September.  The fruit is eaten by many species including the Downy Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, Wood Thrush, white-throated sparrows, indigo buntings, Cardinals, kinbirds, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing and many warblers.  Many birds hunt insects in the bark.

Purple Coneflower is a native prairie plant the is a great source of seeds for goldfinches and songbirds.

Rugosa Rose produces hips that ripen in August, often persisting into winter.

Serviceberry / Juneberry produces black berries that turn red in June, the birds love them.  In particular they attract orioles, tanagers, bluebirds and towhees.

Shrubby St. Johns Wort produces seeds that persist all winter.  A favorite of finches and sparrows.

Species Roses, often considered “wild” roses that are native to your region wont need pesticides or fertilizers.  The hips are eaten by many species of birds.  Thorny roses also provide excellent cover and nesting sites.

Spice bush produces berries in fall that thrushes eat.  The fatty berries are also a favorite of migrating birds as well as the wood thrush and many others.

Staghorn Sumac is a large shrub that ripens fruit in August through September.  The fruit persists until spring.  Smooth Sumac also produces berries for winter and especially attract the Gray Catbird, Wood Thrush and Eastern Bluebird.

Switchgrass is a seed source for birds as well as good shelter.  It holds up well in winter even in cold regions.

Sunflowers produce seeds that are favorites of the Mourning Dove, blackbirds, chickadees, finches, meadowlarks, sparrows and White-breasted Nuthatch.

Viburnum shrub varieties produce fruits that ripen in fall, some persisting into winter.  Nannyberry Viburnum is eaten by the Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird and Cedar Waxwing.

Wild Black Cherry fruits ripen in August.

Wild Red Cherry / Pin Cherry is native to the Midwest.  The summer fruit is favored by the Eastern Bluebird as well as many others.

Winterberry fruits ripen in fall and persist into winter.  Many songbirds are attracted by Winterberry.

Witch Hazel releases seeds in September through October.

Of course there are many, many plants that will help you to attract birds.  If you investigate the preferences of specific birds you want to attract to your backyard you will find additional plants to consider.  The next page highlights just some of the birds you can attract in the Midwest and many other areas of the country.

Sharon Dwyer