Top 10 plants for birds

Even a small garden can provide a selection of natural food sources for birds all year round. From autumn onwards, this is particularly important, as temperatures start to drop and food becomes more scarce. But which plants are the best?

Here are 10 that will provide a succession of valuable foods for a wide range of bird species.

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Holly

Although holly berries are often ripe by autumn, birds such as song thrushes, blackbirds, fieldfares and redwings don't usually feed on them until late winter. Only female plants produce berries, but there must be a male nearby to ensure pollination.

Ivy

In autumn, ivy flowers attract insects, which in turn provide food for robins and wrens. When the black berries appear in the middle of winter, they're devoured by everything from thrushes, waxwings, starlings and jays, to finches and blackbirds. The leaves provide food for caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly, as well as nesting and roosting shelter for birds.

Hawthorn

The shiny clusters of haws can stay on this tree until February or March. They're the favourite berry of blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares and are enjoyed by many other species too, including chaffinches, starlings and greenfinches. The leaves are the foodplant for caterpillars of many species of moth, providing food for baby birds in spring.

Honeysuckle

As it's a climber, honeysuckle is ideal when space is tight. In autumn it provides berries and shelter for birds such as thrushes, warblers and bullfinches. In summer, its scented flowers attract insects and so provide food for a different range of birds.

Rowan

Depending on which species of this tree you plant, it will bear berries from late July (Sorbus aucuparia) to November (Sorbus torminalis). Birds such as blackbirds and starlings feast on these, but tend to give the exotic white-berried forms a miss.

Teasel

This tall architectural plant is a stalwart of naturalistic plantings. Teasels form striking seedheads in early autumn, which can last until December, depending on the weather. Goldfinches, sparrows and buntings all feast on the compact seedheads.

Cotoneaster

The branches of this shrub are laden with small red berries from autumn onwards. This plant is often the first to be stripped of its bounty, as the nutritious berries are extremely popular with garden birds such as blackbirds, thrushes and waxwings.

Sunflower

Leave the faded flowers on this sun-loving annual to form large seedheads. The plentiful seeds, tightly packed at the centre, provide oil-rich nourishment throughout autumn for finches, long-tailed tits, nuthatches and other seed-eating birds. 

Guelder rose

This native deciduous shrubViburnum opulus, bears heavy clusters of glossy berries from November through to March. These are loved by mistle thrushes and bullfinches, in particular. It makes an excellent hedging plant too.

Shrub rose

Some of the largest rose hips are produced by the hedging rose, Rosa rugosa, and these are taken by blackbirds, fieldfares and mistle thrushes. The smaller hips of the dog roseRosa canina, are eaten by a wider range of birds and stay juicy until late winter.

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Kate Bradbury

Kate Bradbury says

The more berrying plants you grow, the better. These provide a perennial source of nutritious, antioxidant-rich food for birds in autumn, which is a longer lasting and more reliable way to help birds than by filling feeders.

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