Five plants to attract birds

Garden birds need all year round support. You can create a beautiful garden full of fantastic plants that not only look good but feed the birds too.

Wild teasel
Wild teasel
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Do you pay attention to the birds in your garden, to the birds outside your window? We have such a wonderful variety of birds visiting our gardens that for many months there can be more different kinds of birds in the garden than there are plants in flower! So let’s have more! But how to attract them, and how to make sure they don’t flit off to someone else’s garden?

Keeping a bird feeder well filled is the obvious thing to do, but it’s not all about seed in a feeder. Birds need a variety of foods, they need shelter and they need somewhere to nest.

Shelter, somewhere to feel safe from birds of prey and cats – that’s what we tend to overlook. Birds can get nervous out in the open so be sure to provide them somewhere they can feel safe while they peck away at the food they’ve picked up from the feeder.

Pyracantha
Firethorn (Pyracantha)

Firethorn (Pyracantha)

Birds love firethorn, the thorny evergreen shrubs with creamy white June flowers and red or orange autumn berries. They’re ideal trained on a wall or a fence, even a chilly one facing north or east, and birds love ‘em for three reasons.

Firstly, they’re evergreen so provide good shelter and, with those nasty thorns, provide great protection from cats. Birds love the massive crop of berries and, one last thing. There’s something about the angles of the branches on a firethorn that blackbirds and thrushes appreciate when they make their nests. So a firethorn not only solves the problem of what to plant to cover that sunless fence – but it’s good for nesting birds too. Grows to around 2-3m.

English ivy
English ivy

Ivy(Hedera)

This is a fantastic plant for birds and wildlife. What, ivy? Yes, ivy. For a start, its autumn flowers are popular with insects, providing late nectar for bees and other pollinators and the birds appreciate its black berries in winter. But, again, it’s the nesting sites and the shelter that evergreen ivy provides that’s so valuable. Tree sparrows, which have been vanishing from our gardens, love to nest in ivy.

So plant an ivy on a shady wall or on an old tree trunk and let it get on with it. Its stems cling tightly to the bark so once it’s on its way you don’t even need to train it or tie it in. Grows to around 1-4m.

rambling rose
Rambling rose. Image: David Austin Roses

Rambling rose (Rosa)

If you have the space, a rambling rose will give you waterfalls of scented summer colour in pinks, creams and white as it scrambles up into an old tree or over an old eyesore at the end of the garden. The flowers are small, yes, but they come in big clusters – there are far too many to count. The flowers are followed by masses of rose hips, which so many birds appreciate in winter.

And, again, songbirds like the tangle of thorny branches that provide good places to build nests and protection from cats, birds of prey and other unpleasant surprises. But be careful what you choose: a climbing rose is a different beast altogether. Grows to around 3-7m.

sunflower
‘Suntastic Yellow’. Image: Suttons Seeds

Sunflower (Helianthus)

Almost everyone from toddlers to grannies loves a sunflower and the birds do too. All have the same sunny ring of petals around the centre where the seeds form although, these days, they come in other colours too.

Bees appreciate them, and as the seeds ripen birds, especially goldfinches, are all over them. The seeds are so rich, they’re ideal bird food.

Forget the small-flowered dwarf varieties and the monsters growing to 3m or more. For birds, buy the ones with the largest flower heads as they’ll produce the most seed – check the packets in the garden centre. Leave the plants where they stand in autumn, or cut the heads and tie them to the fence. The birds will come flocking. Grows to around 1.2-1.8m.

Wild teasel
Wild teasel

Teasel (Dipsacus)

This is a native wildflower that you’ll find in the wildlife gardening area of the plant centre or the seed racks. You’d never describe it as colourful or flamboyant but it has a very distinctive way of growing with branched, upright stems topped with flower heads which are a bit like huge thistles. Butterflies love the flowers but, later, it’s the seed heads that attract birds, especially finches.

As Christmas approaches you can cut the old seed heads and spray them gold or silver for long lasting indoor decorations. And once you have teasels, new plants will grow from the seeds the birds miss. Grows to around 90cm-1.2m.

Graham Rice

About Graham Rice

Graham Rice is an award-winning garden writer and blogger with
special interests in perennials, annuals and container plants, and
choosing plants for specific garden situations. His blog Transatlantic
Gardener
was awarded Garden Blog Of The Year in 2014 and his
Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Perennials was awarded
Garden Book of The Year.
View all posts by Graham.