Plants for fruits and seeds

From a wildlife gardening point of view, we are interested in providing those fruit and berry producing plants that attract and support particular species of birds. As such, we can use some of the evidence about feeding preferences and fruit availability to emerge from decades of research into this topic to draw up a list of suitable plants.
Waxwing. Chris Knights
Waxwing. Chris Knights

Birds and berries

A series of studies has highlighted the preferences of a number of familiar species. Blackbird has been found to be rather catholic in its tastes, typically taking a range of fruits (including haws, rosehips, sloes, Dogwood, Buckthorn, Elder, Yew and Holly), though haws seemed to be the preferred fruit when choice is available. Song Thrush shows a clear preference for Yew, sloes, Elder and Guelder Rose and apparent avoidance of rosehips. The larger Mistle Thrush shows a strong preference for sloes over haws, while Redwing finds sloes too large to tackle, preferring instead to feed on haws, a preference also shown by Fieldfare.

Only Blackbird, Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush seem able to handle rosehips effectively, the hips being too large for the smaller Song Thrush and Redwing. Late in the fruiting season, when the choice is limited to Holly and Ivy, preference seems to be strongly towards Ivy, suggesting another reason why Holly berries may remain untouched until very late in the season.

What about cultivars of berry shrubs?

It is not just native species that produce fruit taken by birds. Introduced species and the cultivated varieties of native species may also produce suitable fruit. There has been a fair amount of debate over the different cultivars of some berry-producing shrubs (including those in the genus Sorbus) and how attractive they might be to birds. Since birds have been shown to use berry colour as an indicator of nutritive rewards, it seems sensible to assume that the differently-coloured varieties of these shrubs will differ in their attractiveness to birds.

Ornamental fruits whose colours are not widely replicated within native fruits (for example white – seen only on Mistletoe) may prove less attractive to birds. This could explain why white-berried forms of Sorbus remain on the tree for so long.

Suitable berry-producing plants for birds

Bird Cherry Prunus padus
Blackberry Rubus fruticosus agg.
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa
Crabapple Malus sylvestris
Dog Rose Rosa canina
Elder Sambucus nigra
Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Holly Ilex aquifolium
Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenon
Ivy Hedera helix
Mezereon Daphne mezereon
Midland Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata
Mistletoe Viscum album
Perfoliate Honeysuckle Lonicera caprifolium
Oregon Grape Mahonia aquifolium
Photinia davidiana
Pyracantha coccinea
Pyracantha rogersiana
Rowan Sorbus aucuparia
Sea-buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides
Stranvaesia davidiana
Wayfaring Tree Viburnum lantana
Whitebeam Sorbus aria
Wild Cherry Prunus avium
Wild Privet Ligustrum vulgare
Wild Service Tree Sorbus torminalis
Yew Taxus baccata

Suitable seed-producing plants for birds

Alder Alnus glutinosa
Beech Fagus sylvaticus
Dandelion Taraxacum agg.
Devil’s bit Scabious Succisa pratensis
Field Scabious Knautia arvensis
Greater Knapweed Centaurea scabiosa
Hazel Corylus avellana
Hornbeam Carpinus betulus
Lavender Lavandula
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis
Silver Birch Betula pendula
Sunflower Helianthus annuus
Teasel Dipsacus fullonum
Thistles Carduus/Cirsium

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