How to Plant Your Yard to Attract Songbirds

The mantra to remember whenever you’re trying to attract native wildlife is diversity attracts diversity.  That means you need to offer a diversity of native habitats and food sources.

Selecting native plants that provide the highest quality food for our feathered guests. We’ll also be sure to suggest plants best suited for suburban yards of Northern Virginia. With those two criteria in mind let’s jump right to that plant list.

The second all-important principal to keep at your side when landscaping for wildlife is plant for all seasons, and that’s how our plant list will be structured. Most native plant fruits can be separated into 3 basic categories. Add a few spring-flowering, pollen and nectar rich blooms that attract insects for birds to feed on in March and April and you have a four season, five-star songbird buffet.

Spring - - - Insect-attracting Blooms for Hungry Migrants

Oaks, Hickories, Elms and Willows are best at attracting insects for famished spring warblers, but you may not have room for these large trees in your yard. If not, try one of these yard-sized shrubs:

  • Common, Speckled or Brookside Alder
  • Highbush Blueberry

Summer - - - Sugar-filled fruits for over-worked parents

Red Mulberry and Black Cherry are absolute magnets for summer birds and should be preserved whenever possible. But again, maybe they are too big for your yard? Try these easy-fit, fruit-filled shrubs:

  • Highbush Blueberry (on two lists – you must use this plant!)
  • Serviceberry
  • Common Elderberry

Fall - - - Fat-heavy fruits to fuel long-distance autumnal flights

It’s getting cold and birds have miles to fly, sometime countries to cross. Give them fatty fruits to get them there. Black Gum/Tupelo and Sassafras are two of the best – if they’re too big, any of the following will fill the bill:

  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Pagoda Dogwood
  • Silky Dogwood (shrub)
  • Gray-stem Dogwood (shrub)
  • Spicebush

Winter - - - Tough fruits that withstand harsh weather and fill cold bellies

Most of these fruits aren’t on bird’s list of favorites. They eat them when the sugary and fatty fruits are all gone. They may not be yummy, but they’re how birds survive into spring.

  • American Holly
  • Winterberry Holly
  • Inkberry Holly
  • Eastern Red Cedar
  • Winged, Staghorn or Smooth Sumac
  • Arrowwod Viburnum

So which ones should you plant?

Choose 1 or 2 species from each season list and if possible, plant at least 3 individuals of each plant you choose. And it’s OK to clump them and make a hedgerow rather than spreading them out. If small space is a big issue, go for 1 Alder, 3 Highbush Blueberry, 3 Silky Dogwood, 3 Inkberry and 1 Eastern Red Cedar.

If you can squeeze in one more plant, try an Elderberry, Serviceberry or Pagoda Dogwood.

Good luck and remember, no pesticides! You don’t want to poison the meal.