19 Berry Bushes Birders Should Grow
Want to attract more birds to your backyard? Start by growing berry bushes for birds in your landscape. Birds love to eat the fruit!
I admit I’m not a huge gardener. I like growing my own food, but I’m much stronger in the birding area than in the blooms. As a naturalist, though, I know there’s a lot of value in gardening for wildlife. There’s something inspiring about seeing a cheery flock of cedar waxwings suddenly settle into your backyard, stretching to pluck every berry within reach. They gulp the fruits down one after another before leaving as quickly as they arrived. Not only are berries among the most natural and essential food sources for birds, they’re also easy to grow. Translation: You don’t have to be much of a gardener to grow berry bushes for birds!
Take a look at my top picks for berry bushes that attract backyard birds. From one birder to another, I hope this advice allows you to simply plant, walk away and then get your binoculars ready to enjoy the view. Check out 7 backyard birds that eat berries.
American Beautyberry Bushes
Callicarpa Americana, Zones 5 to 8
One of the most notable characteristics of a beautyberry shrub is the purple berries growing in clusters very close to the stem. American beautyberries reach only 3 to 5 feet tall, which is perfect for small spaces.
Why we love it: The fruits are attractive to many birds: northern bobwhites, mockingbirds, towhees, robins and brown thrashers.
American Cranberry Bush
Viburnum Trilobum, Zones 2 to 7
American cranberrybush viburnum is among the best of the viburnum family, with its handsome rusty red fall color and use in multiples as a deciduous shrub. It grows 8 to 10 feet tall and wide, preferring sun or partial shade and moist, well draining soil.
Why we love it: White clusters of flowers appear in spring followed by berries in late summer, feeding hungry songbirds through winter.
Shutterstock / Adam Gladstone
Myrica, Zones 3 to 7
While most warblers are spending the winter in Central and South America, flocks of the yellow-rumped species remain in the southern United States all winter long. Many species of bayberry, including wax myrtle, provide fruit for the warblers. In fact, the eastern subspecies of the yellow-rumped warbler is often referred to as the myrtle warbler.
Credit: Gina Kelly / Alamy Stock Photo
Symphoricarpos Orbiculatus, Zones 2 to 7
In summer, enjoy coralberry’s bell-shaped pinkish white blooms, praised by many sources for being particularly attractive to bees. Come fall, the flowers fade and clusters of red berries emerge. They’ll persist throughout winter until songbirds like cardinals, chickadees and robins devour them.
Why we love it: This berry bush is compact, reaching 3 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide, and a fast grower. Plus, it tolerates shade—a major selling point for home gardeners.
Cotoneaster Spp., Zones 3 to 8
Whether you opt for a deciduous, evergreen or semi-evergreen type of cotoneaster, it will sport red and orange berries that songbirds will love to munch on throughout winter. The berry bush grows best in full sun or part shade in fertile, well-draining soil. Different species come in various sizes and growth habits.
Why we love it: It has multiseason appeal. In spring or summer, butterflies may sample nectar from the pink, white or rose flowers.
Many currants produce fragrant flowers and abundant fruit. Except for a few species, the berries are largely unpalatable to people, but the birds will thank you for planting these treats in your backyard.
Why we love it: Hummingbirds are wild about the flowers.
Check out the top 10 colorful flowers hummingbirds love.
Cornus, Zones 5 to 9
Several species are native to North America, and over 40 kinds of birds have been documented eating their berries. One of my favorites is the gray catbird, whose long tail and stubby wings are perfectly suited for flying though dense dogwood thickets. The plant is available as either a small tree or a bush.
Learn how to plant a native bird garden.
Sambucus, Zones 4 to 9
A hit with many birds, from wrentits to flycatchers, purplish-blue elderberries grow in clusters. If you somehow can harvest the berries yourself before the birds devour them, they make a delicious pie filling, jam or syrup.
Ilex, Zones 5 to 9
What’s more festive than holly’s bright-red berries clustered among dark-green leaves? Although the fruit can be mildly toxic and irritating to humans, birds seem to have no problem with it. Research suggests that the berries lose some of their toxicity after the first frost, which is when birds tend to chow down on them. Another thing to know about these berry bushes: It’s dioecious, meaning you need to have both male and female plants to ensure that fruit will be produced.
Follow these simple tips to attract winter birds.
Gaylussacia, Zones 3 to 7
A relative of the blueberry, huckleberry is equally popular with birds. While I prefer to enjoy it in ice cream form, the birds love it right off the bush.
Next, check out the best fall shrubs to grow.
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Ilex Glabra, Zones 4 to 9
Part of the holly family, inkberry is an evergreen that’s ideal for home gardens because it tolerates shade and typically maxes out at 5 to 8 feet tall and wide.
Why we love it: Black berrylike drupes emerge in early fall and last throughout winter until birds gobble them up. The dark green foliage is also attractive throughout the cold months. A female plant needs a male in order to bear fruit.
Juniperus, Zones 3 to 9
Any of the juniper species can offer double benefits for birds, providing good cover and choice nesting locations as well as fruit. The berries are especially popular with the Townsend’s solitaire. While they’re less appealing to some other birds, they still offer valuable winter nutrients. And for the gardener, these hardy berry bushes require little maintenance.
Try these 5 attractive drought-tolerant shrubs for your garden.
Rubus idaeus, Zones 3 to 10
I used to find towhees and sparrows in my raspberry patch every morning when I’d go out to harvest berries for my breakfast pancakes. The dense patches provide excellent cover, and sometimes the birds refused to flush from the thicket as I picked a few treats for myself.
Shutterstock / guentermanaus
Aronia Arbutfolia, Zones 4 to 9
Growing 6 to 12 feet tall, this resilient native berry bush does well even in poor soil, tolerating wet and dry conditions. It has small white or reddish blooms in spring, glossy dark green foliage in summer and bright red berries in fall and early winter.
Why we love it: Besides the berries, reddish brown bark boosts color within a cold-weather landscape.
Amelanchier, Zones 4 to 8
Most of these species bloom early and then quickly yield berries for birds, including the vireos. It’s easy to find serviceberry bushes. Some serviceberries are considered small-scale trees, but they don’t grow too large, so both tree and shrub work nicely in smaller landscapes.
Galina Sandalova/Getty Images
Symphoricarpos Albus, Zones 3 to 7
By winter, snowberry’s pale green fruits turn white. Robins, waxwings and thrushes are known to eat the berries, but sometimes birds take a pass, leaving the white fruits to boost your landscape’s winter interest.
Why we love it: It attracts all kinds of creatures—vashti sphinx moths use it as a host plant and hummingbirds love the pink blooms.
Courtesy of Proven Winners - Provenwinners.com
Viburnum, Zones 2 to 9
With around 150 different species, this is a versatile choice for your backyard berry patch. These shrubs can do well clumped as a hedgerow. They also make a good transition species at a forest’s edge. The berries are favorites of both birds and larger wildlife.
Plant any of these choices, and watch the show begin! A flock of waxwings can make short work of a berry buffet, while a northern mockingbird will vigorously defend a berry patch to hoard the pickings, enjoying them at a leisurely pace. Either way, when you plant berries for birds, you’ll have a front-row seat to some fascinating bird behavior all year long.
Ilex Verticillata, Zones 3 to 9
Few deciduous shrubs produce as much cold weather interest as winterberry. Unlike most of its holly cousins, it drops its leaves in the autumn, so nothing detracts from the red berries that are favored by game birds, songbirds and waterfowl. Plant both female and male shrubs for berries.
Why we love it: In warmer weather, watch for Henry’s elfin butterflies. Winterberry is a host plant for the larvae of these little fliers.
Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images
Yaupon Berry Bush
Ilex Vomitoria, Zones 7 to 10
This evergreen berry bush forms a dense thicket ideal for a screen, hedge, windbreak and barrier. It can be espaliered or trained as a small tree or topiary. The red berries brighten the winter landscape and provide food for birds. Female plants need a male pollinator in order to produce fruit.
Why we love it: The shrub’s adaptability along with drought and disease tolerance make it a long-living native alternative to boxwood.