Bushes for Birds: What Flora Best Attracts Avifauna?

This summer, as you work on your landscaping, try to select plants that attract wildlife while still enhancing the beauty of your garden. It’s called naturescaping, and it can be quite a challenge at our elevation. Not only must you select the proper varieties of flora, but you need to consider the right location, too.

Protect the plants from extreme wind and sun. Select plants that are native to your region or are closely related to native species. Purchase only those plants proven to grow well under local conditions. As a Master Gardener, I look for species that beautify and provide habitat for our avian amigos.

At Wild Birds Unlimited, each year, I research plants that are best for soil, sunlight and moisture conditions along the Front Range. More importantly, I look for plants that will attract a wide variety of bird species by providing fruit at different times of the growing season. This year, I have selected five beautiful species that are hardy, fruitful, attractive and bird friendly:

Native American Plum (Prunus americana): This Colorado native provides important food and cover for wildlife. When protected, a thorny growth can form a thicket valuable for bird nesting, roosting and loafing. It is highly appealing to waxwings, jays, tanagers, robins, bluebirds and occasionally warblers. Plus, the American Plum is very tough and winter hardy.

New Mexico Privet

New Mexico Privet by Patrick Standish

New Mexico Privet (Forestiera neomexicana): This unique-looking native is a shrub or multi-trunk tree. It has light-colored bark and light green leaves. Regular watering can produce a larger tree, but this plant is very drought tolerant. It is a perfect landscape tree for small spaces because of its diminutive size. This tree provides late-season fruit attractive to migrants. For fruiting, it is recommended to plant at least 3-4 shrubs, as males and females are required.

Siberian Peashrub (Caragana arborescens): This native of Siberia is extremely winter hardy to 10,000 feet. It is a rapid grower, is an excellent windbreak and works well as a hedge planted 1-2 feet apart in a row. Its bark is olive green and smooth. Its oval-shaped leaves are dark green on top and light green underneath, giving a shimmering appearance in a breeze. Seedeaters find this very attractive. Striking clusters of pea-like, fragrant, yellow flowers appear in late spring yielding seedpods that burst, offering sustenance to songbirds. The plant can be trimmed to ground for rejuvenation.

Tall Blue Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus): This medium-sized native shrub shows brilliant yellow fall flowers. Blooming so late in the season makes rabbitbrush quite attractive to butterflies and bees. Snout, monarch, showy, northern and sagebrush checkerspot butterflies use the plant as a host for their egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and adult phases. Its attractive seed heads are appealing to House Finches and Pine Siskins, and Tall Blue Rabbitbrush is hardy to 8,500 feet.

Three-Leaf Sumac (Rhus trilobata): This medium-sized shrub provides important fall and winter food for 32 species of birds, including turkeys, pheasants, robins, jays, songbirds, flickers and Downy Woodpeckers, as well as deer. Its fruit and buds are staples for grouse. Towhees enjoy foraging under this shrub, which is hardy to 9,000 feet.

I hope this list will be helpful in your flora selection, and many of these plants will attract a good variety of fauna. Stop by Wild Birds Unlimited for lots of friendly, free advice. Happy Birding!

~ David Menough, Owner of Wild Birds Unlimited of Arvada

David and his wife, Kathy, own the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the southeast corner of 88th and Wadsworth in Arvada. WBU stores specialize in bird feeders, birdbaths, houses, field guides, nature-related gifts, binoculars and quality seed blends.

Other WBU Front Range locations:

  • Wild Birds Unlimited of Denver – 2720 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
  • Wild Birds Unlimited of Fort Collins – 3636 S. College Ave.

BirdTalk migrating to noon! Tune in to David and Scott Menough at noon on Saturdays for BirdTalk Radio on 710 KNUS. They will broadcast live from their stores in Arvada and Denver.

Learn more about bird-friendly living.