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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, January 27, 2018 1:00 am

Pick tree based on birds' like

Ricky Kemery

Question: I love to feed birds during the winter months. Are there preferred trees and shrubs to use near the feeder to attract birds?

Answer: Sometimes it depends on what kind of birds one wants to attract. This year I put a feeder outside my window so that when I wake each day I have entertainment in the form of birds ready and waiting. I prefer the smaller birds such as sparrows, titmouse and finch, so I use a feeder and seed best suited for those species.

Based on my observations, it seems to me as if the smaller birds certainly can use protection from the elements and other predator bird species. Just last week, I returned home to see a red-tailed hawk on the garbage can next to the garage. He was probably frustrated, because he had no access to the feeding small birds that were protected by evergreen shrubs.

In shade to part-shade areas, yews are nice shrubs to have near the feeder. The dense foliage of yews can serve as protective perches near a feeder. I have pruned some lower branches to allow for the birds to access the feeder near my house. Remember that yews cannot stand poorly drained areas.

Larger junipers also can provide cover in sunnier, drier areas. Their foliage is dense and prickly and the inside of the shrub tends to lose its needles over time, giving good protection.

Hawthorn trees (sometimes they can be like shrubs) are great perching sites and offer protection for small birds. I have observed hundreds of small birds clustered in small hawthorn trees in parking lots. Some crabapples can also be great nesting and protective sites due to their dense branching.

Native trees like oaks and sugar maples are great nesting and protective sites for larger birds. One of my favorite native evergreen trees for birds is Eastern Red Cedar – which is not a cedar at all. It actually belongs to the juniper family. Birds are drawn to these trees like magnets. The tree isn't perfect and can harbor a disease which affects hawthorns and crabapples. To me it is still worth planting.

Instead of Colorado blue spruce, use the native white spruce as a windbreak and tree for birds. Even Norway spruce is a better tree in this area than the disease and insect susceptible Colorado Blue.

Native ornamental grasses like bluestem, Indian grass and switch grass are good near feeders, especially if planted in masses or clumps. They provide perching sites and some cover and the seed heads provide additional food during the winter months.

I plant sunflowers, Mexican sunflowers and zinnias of various sizes in and around my vegetable garden. The birds love the seeds and the garden helps provide cover in case predators are near. It also looks great and draws insect pollinators to the garden.

When planning your garden or landscape, don't forget our friends the birds. They can add interest and delight to any location.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.