The closer it gets to the holidays – and as the weather slides to the darkest, coldest time of year, the more I think about food. I know I’m not alone. Birds are hungry too. We don’t hang feeders here – there would be no way to keep up with them not to mention we’d need a separate and sizable budget to fund them. But we do offer a few natural breakfast buffets in the gardens and grounds. And after walking around looking for bird food, I have a whole new list of plants that I know need in my own starving garden.
Rather than cut everything back for the winter we leave some seedheads – like rudbeckia and echinacea – in the gardens because they are goldfinch favorites. Seed-eating birds also enjoy certain grasses like the Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ planted at the Carriage House (matching the color of the cedar shingles exactly right now) as well as the goldenrod growing wild at the edge of the Bosquet.
Cedar waxwings love their namesake eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). I had a hard time finding berries to photograph, perhaps because the birds have already come through, or the squirrels got there first, or maybe it just wasn’t a good year for berries with all the heat and drought. I wonder too about the bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) because I couldn’t find a single berry on any of our plants (and I’m sure we have some females among them). The waxy fruit ripens in September (I have to admit I’ve never paid attention then) and it’s possible birds – any of dozens of different varieties – found them long before I looked. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) berries are already stripped too.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and crabapples (Malus sp. – especially ones with very small fruit like ‘Prairifire’) are into-winter favorites for a lot of different birds. The fruit has to freeze and thaw before being soft enough to gobble up, which gives us gardeners a chance to glean some (visual) sustenance too during our darkest, starved-for-color season.
I know this is a short list – I didn’t touch the viburnums… What do you have in your garden that birds love to eat this time of year and through the winter?