Q: What are some trees and shrubs I can plant that would be good for birds?
A: When gardening to attract birds, it helps to think about the three most basic needs of all living creatures: food, water, and protection.
To make birds feel safe when feeding and foraging, plant trees and shrubs with variation in height and density. Birds simultaneously like open and protected spaces. For birds that do not migrate in the winter, dense shrubs and trees provide protection from harsh temperatures (nests are only used during breeding season, for laying eggs and raising their young).
Consider growing shrubs or trees that cling to their berries well into the winter months and thus provide an extended source of food, such as Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), American mountain ash (Sorbus americana), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), and winterberry (Ilex verticillata).
Some other shrubs that both look nice in a yard and provide food and cover for birds are alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), American black elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. Canadensis), downy serviceberry, (Amelanchier arborea), red bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), and American larch/tamarack (Larix laricina). Evergreens you might want to consider include eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) and eastern white pine (Pinus strobus).
You can get a look at photos of these trees and shrubs and more information about them at the web site of the Missouri Botanical Garden (http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/). It’s an excellent resource for plant information.
In an urban setting, it’s nearly impossible to plant enough food sources to sustain a variety of birds. Supplementing with hanging feeders and platforms will encourage frequent returns to your back yard. Birdfeeders should be placed in several locations, each one holding a different type of feeding mix. Find feeders that can easily be disassembled and cleaned regularly (nothing is 100% squirrel proof).
Birdbaths bring a variety of species to the back yard. The depth should be no more than 2 inches. Add pebbles or small stones to birdbaths that have smooth or slippery surfaces. Be sure to clean and add fresh water weekly.
Avoid window strikes by placing decals or dotted window clings on windows that reflect surrounding trees or sky. Or let the birds give you a great excuse to skip a housekeeping chore: Really clean windows are more reflective and more likely to cause birds to crash. Draw blinds or curtains at dusk so that lighted interiors do not interfere with nighttime navigating birds.
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send your questions to email@example.com.