Photo by Melody

This is for the Birds!

By Toni Leland (tonilelandMay 12, 2008

My birdseed bill last winter was right around $100. Add the cost of thistle for the summer Goldfinches, and I'm spending almost $150 a year to enjoy the wildlife in my gardens. I started looking around my yard to see what the critters eat when the feeder is empty, and I discovered a treasure trove of goodies. This spring, I'll spend some of that seed money to add even more to the winter smorgasbord! Something that will last longer than a day or two, and give me enjoyment all summer long.

Gardening picture

Here in southeastern Ohio, the winter entourage is surprisingly varied. I've recently learned that even the American Goldfinch remains in the area, after changing into their winter attire (which makes them harder to recognize). As I write this, the temperature hovers around 20°F., but the Blue Jays and Cardinals are on the ground, squabbling over some grapes I tossed out there, while the House Finches and Sparrows scold me for leaving the feeder empty. But it's not really my fault - the resident squirrels cleaned house when the temperature dipped to 4°F. last week (you think I'm going outdoors in that?).



When cold weather sets in, bird-watching from my kitchen window is a lively pastime. Here's a list of the feathered friends that regularly inhabit my landscape, and what they like to eat.

  • American Goldfinch: seeds (especially thistle), some insects
  • Black-capped Chickadee: insects, seeds in winter
  • Blue Jay: acorns & nuts, fruit, seeds, small insects
  • Cardinal: seeds, fruit, buds, insects
  • Carolina Wren: insects & spiders
  • Dark-eyed Junco: seeds, insects
  • Eastern Bluebird: insects, small fruits
  • Eastern Phoebe: flying insects
  • House Finch: buds, seeds, fruit
  • Mourning Dove: seeds
  • Northern Flicker: ants mainly, other crawling insects, fruit, seeds
  • Nuthatch: insects, nuts, seeds
  • Robin: worms (summer), fruit (winter)
  • Sparrow: seeds, weed seeds, insects
  • Tufted Titmouse: insects, seeds
  • Woodpecker: nuts, small insects, sap, some seeds, occasionally fruit

The list shows the adaptation for insect-eaters to revert to seeds and fruit when the bug population dwindles.

What Can I Add?

In my immediate garden, the menu consists of Maiden Grass (seeds), Holly (berries), Sedum (seeds), Privet (berries), Dwarf Crabapple (fruit), Hummingbird Plant (seeds), Firethorn (berries) and Burning Bush (berries). Many seed-producing plants can be left standing to provide this much-needed nourishment for our feathered friends. When planting fruit-producers, be prepared to do battle if you're not planning to share! The following lists are partial, and what you plant will depend on your region.

Seed Producers

Aster (Aster spp.)
Bachelor's Button (Centaurea cyanus)
Cockscomb (Celosia spp.)
Cosmos (Cosmos spp.)
Floss Flower (Ageratum houstonianum)
Four O'Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)
Larkspur (Consolida ambigua)
Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea)
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)
Spider Flower (Cleome spinosa)
Sunflower (Helianthus spp)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)


Bee Balm (Monarda)
Goldenrod (Solidago)
Hummingbird Plant (Scutillaria longifolia)
Maiden Grass (Miscanthus spp.): drought tolerant, deer resistant, prolific seed producer
Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis): drought tolerant, deer resistant
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): beautiful addition to any sunny spot and watching the Goldfinches hang upside down to feed on the seeds is worth the price of admission.
Sedum (Sedum spp.): great winter interest, prolific seed producer
Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.): prolific bloomer, beautiful accent in the garden, lots of seeds.

Fruit Producers

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea)
Holly (Ilex spp.)
Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
Manzanita (Arctostaphlos spp.)
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri)
Black Currant (Ribes americanum)
Blackberry (Blackberry)
Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare)
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster)
Crabapple (Malus spp.): dwarf species produce abundant tiny fruits that stay through winter
Cranberry Bush (Vibrunum trilobum)
Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)

Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
Silverberry (Eleagnus commutata)
Sumac (Rhus spp.)

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Take a stroll around your own landscape and determine if you can provide more native winter sustenance to our feather friends. While you do that, I'm heading to the feed store.

  About Toni Leland  
Toni LelandToni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.

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