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Spring is coming, birds are returning!

The six best trees that feed birds in late winter!

By Chris Leinster - March 14, 2019

Winter is stubbornly holding Colorado in its icy grip with more storms lining up off the California coast. Nevertheless, as sure as the sun will rise in the morning spring is coming and signs of spring are already making their appearances. If you can brave the cold long enough to be outside for a few minutes you might notice song birds are starting to arrive. With the ground frozen and snow covering the ground birds may be having a tough time foraging for dried berries and seeds. Here’s a few trees that provide excellent nutrition to welcome back migrating birds to your backyard.

Crabapple- Crabapple trees are abundant throughout Colorado and are venerated for their explosion of colorful flowers that decorate the trees in early spring. The apples they produce are often a nuisance for gardeners as they can drop on walkways and patios creating a sticky mess, however many varieties produce minute fruits that persist on the branches well into winter. The apples shrivel up like raisins and remain attached to the trees until they are plucked by grateful song birds returning from their winter hide-a-ways. Popular examples are ‘Royal Raindrops’, ‘Prairiefire’, and ‘Indian Magic’.

Hawthorn- the berries on most Hawthorn trees are so vividly bright that they are considered an ornamental characteristic and a valuable visual asset. They are usually orange, but can be red or yellow depending on the variety. Mockingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and even wild Turkeys will forage on Hawthorn berries. Most gardeners will opt for thorn-less varieties like ‘Cockspur’, but thorny trees like ‘Washington’ are extremely hardy and are preferred nesting hosts for many bird species. I suspect birds like the thorny defense that Hawthorn provide, as cats and other predators may find the tree canopy impenetrable. They also sport white flowers in spring and an explosion of red-orange-yellow fall color.

European Mountain Ash- An underused small tree with tropical looking leaves, white flowers, and abundant red or orange berries that persist into winter. Mountain Ash are susceptible to a number of insects and diseases, but mostly these aren’t prevalent in our climate. The berries can be messy, so plant away from patios and walkways, but they are very tasty and will attract many bird species. The common name ‘Ash’ is a misnomer and it is not impacted by the Emerald Ash Beetle.

Spruce and Pine- These mighty evergreens produce nuts in the cones favored by Finches. They also provide habitat for nesting and offer cover from predators. The common varieties grow quite large, so select cultivated varieties for skinnier, more slender selections if space is an issue. Pinion Pine produce delicious nuts that are tasty for us humans too!

Birch and Alder- These closely related trees produce seeds popular with Chickadees. In the wild, these trees are found in the forest understory, usually by streams or marsh areas. They are weak-wooded and won’t stand up to snow loads and summer storms, so they are probably not a great choice for Colorado. Still, many fine examples exist in downtown Denver and around the state, so they’re worth a try if you understand the risks.

Hackberry- I can’t tell if the Hackberry is an attractive tree or not. Maybe it’s the name that throws me off. Its growth habit could best be described as irregular. While I rarely find a symmetrical Hackberry, the bizarrely branched structures have a certain appeal I guess. The fall color is yellow, but not particularly bright or stunning. Its best attribute as a Colorado native is that it is extremely hardy and tolerant of a wide range of conditions, including heat, cold, and pollution. Its second best attribute is that it attracts Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Cardinals, and Mockingbirds. It’s a great choice for farms and rural properties, and makes a great street tree for cityscapes as well.

In addition to trees that provide food throughout the winter, there are dozens of shrubs that feed our wildlife during the winter months.  Currants, Sumac, Barberry, Quince, Roses, Cotoneaster, Buckthorn, Viburnum, and Coralberry all offer a banquet of seeds and berries for our feathered friends. Also plant ornamental grasses and perennial flowers to provide seeds and nesting material. If your HOA will allow it, remove your rock beds and re-establish a native prairie with wildflowers. This will not only attract birds, but will also bring back bugs, worms, caterpillars, ants, and many other critters upon which birds prey all summer. 

If you are interested in attracting birds to your yard, consider the food value of our ornamental trees and shrubs when selecting your plant choices. Happy Trees can help you determine the best trees to plant with the space and exposure you have available. Give us a call and we’ll plant the perfect tree for your family, and for all of the birds you welcome to your yard.