Selecting Trees and Shrubs to Attract Birds

Layering for Food and Safety

A good habitat requires several layers of plant material. This includes ground level, shrub level and tree level. Since different birds nest at different heights, several layers provide space for a variety of birds. Some songbirds need tall or medium deciduous trees for nesting. Others require evergreens for nesting and shelter. Instead of planting one single tree or shrub, consider a grouping. For example, a mixed grouping of dogwoods, crabapples, cedars and junipers will provide food, shelter from winter weather and a safe place to hide from predators.

Layering is also beneficial for foraging, feeding and protecting. A layered wildlife habitat is a safe haven for birds and small animals to hide from predators, and also to find protection from severe weather.

Food Variety

Fruit, nuts, seeds and insects are all food sources for different birds. Several birds, such as woodpeckers, blue jays and turkeys, enjoy oak and hickory nuts. Cedar waxwings and bluebirds eat the fruit of hollies, dogwoods and cherries. Seeds from pines and spruce nourish grosbeaks and cardinals. Woodpeckers and nuthatches scurry along tree trunks and branches in search of insects. In fact, a bird's beak is specially shaped according to its food source. Seed eating birds such as the cardinal have stubby, conical shaped beaks for cracking seeds. Woodpeckers and nuthatches have long, chisel-type beaks for boring into wood in search of insects.

Seasonal Selection

Think seasonally when selecting trees and shrubs, and your landscape will appeal to both spring and fall migrating birds, as well as year-round residents. Mulberry and serviceberry are among the options that provide summer fruit. By planting dogwood and winterberry, you'll provide food for fall. Holly and sumac are good choices for providing year-round feeding.

Plant Choices

Local nurseries offer many trees and shrubs to suit your landscape needs that also benefit wildlife. Wax myrtle, holly, serviceberry and juniper are good shrub choices to incorporate in your landscape. In addition, here are a few tree options to consider:

  • Oak trees attract goldfinches, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches.
  • Pine trees attract goldfinches, chickadees, juncos, doves, titmice and nuthatches.
  • Mulberry trees attract robins, blue jays, cardinals, orioles, towhees and tanagers.
  • Dogwoods attract blue jays, downy woodpeckers, mocking birds, bluebirds and tanagers.
  • Crabapples attract robins, woodpeckers, titmice, bluebirds and cedar waxwings.

Even dead trees attract birds. If you have a dead tree in your yard that doesn't pose a threat to you or your home, consider leaving it in place. Dead trees are home to numerous species of birds and mammals. Many birds rely on the nesting cavities in dead trees to raise their young.

When choosing landscape plants, native trees and shrubs are excellent choices because they are already adapted to the soil and climate in your area. Native trees and shrubs usually thrive with minimal use of pesticides and fertilizers, and can generally tolerate drought conditions, an important consideration during water restrictions.

A good wildlife habitat requires a little planning and careful plant selection, but planting for the birds can be very rewarding. Once your backyard habitat is in place, add a bird bath or other water source, and then sit back and enjoy the show.

Visit these Web sites for more information about landscaping to attract birds:


Wax myrtles do not lose their leaves in the fall and provide year-round protection for many birds. Vireos, yellow-rumped warblers and cardinals enjoy eating the small blue/gray berries on the female plants throughout the winter.

Downey woodpeckers use their beaks to bore into tree limbs and trunks in search of insects.

A blue jay's diet consists of berries, acorns and even insects, especially tent caterpillars.