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Help Our Birds Through Winter

Backyard bird feeding is a wonderful way to connect to our own yards, learn about our western NY bird species, and help our feathered friends endure the long cold months of winter. Preparing and filling your feeders with sunflower seeds, nuts, and thistle, as well as cakes of suet and fat, are perfect foods to offer your feathered friends. But as we watch and observe our flying visitors, it’s never too early to think about what other beneficial things we can do to help our local birds and wildlife besides just offering seed and suet.


During the colder months, birds and other mammals must find food. Berries, seeds, and protected tree limbs and shrubs are more difficult to find and not as plentiful as in the warmer months. We can help by modifying our home gardens and substituting in some shrubs with sustenance and protein for the birds. At the same time, these shrubs will be a haven for wildlife and protect them from predators and the harsh elements of winter. These beneficial native shrubs are not only valuable for birds but are also a wonderful addition to the landscape as well as beautifying our homes during the holidays.


Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous evergreen that holds its bright red berries on its leafless stems and is a stunning contrast against the winter white. It dries well and is used quite often for holiday decorations. You will love the showy splash of color in your winter landscape, and the birds will love you for growing it.

Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is a semi-evergreen that is noted for its ornamental silver berries that persist into winter and attract many species of birds. Fruit is only produced on female plants, so one male and one female shrub are required. The dense shrub provides great protection for many garden critters, and the foliage, stems, and berries are bayberry-scented when crushed and are a natural insect repellent.

Cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), also known as Highbush Cranberry, is a larger shrub that is a beautiful all-season addition to any garden. Beautiful white, flat-topped flowers develop into tasty red fruits in the summer months. Fall brings stunning maroon/red colored leaves, and the desiccated red fruit hang on and serve as food for wildlife in winter. We can also consume these berries, and they make a wonderful jam/jelly.

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) are multi-seasonal shrubs that have beautiful white flowers in early spring, glossy green foliage in summer, spectacular orange-red autumn hues, and dazzling pendulous blue/purple fruits that attract wildlife and persist well into winter months.

Besides introducing new native shrubs to your landscape, gardeners can also provide food and habitat to native wildlife by stepping away from a clean, tightly pruned garden and embrace the benefit, beauty and utility of leaving the dead stalks and brown flower heads standing in their winter garden.

Feeding birds is a wonderful hobby that many western New Yorkers enjoy. And what a way to enhance your own personal yard but to leave your fall beauty on the ground and, in the spring, plant these stunning native shrubs to help winter be a little more tolerant for the birds and us!


By Carol Markham, Conservationist for Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy

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