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Moosa Creek Blog

Best Winter Wildlife Food Sources

Creekside Chat


If you want to do birds a favor, then fill your yard with plants that offer food through the winter. Birds will eat leaves, seeds, berries, insects and sip nectar from winter blooms, so don’t cut the seed heads off in the fall!

If you have room for trees and large shrubs, and have a frost-free area, then sumac is ideal. Many birds such a goldfinches, ruby-crowned kinglets, quail and others love to perch in the large, sprawling safety of a sumac bush and eat the seeds. Of course the best possible habitat for wildlife is the oak tree; if you have room for oak to thrive without pruning and where it can live for possibly hundreds of years, then you will be feeding woodpeckers, jays and quail to name a fraction of the 300 species of wildlife that depend upon oaks. Birds will also eat the insects found on the dead branches, so don’t ‘clean’ the oak up. Oddly, titmouses, bushtits and other birds will eat leaf galls, probably to get at the insect that has stung the leaf and made it swell up to protect their eggs and young. Pines are also valuable for their seeds and insects in the bark for nuthatches and many more, and cupressus seeds are also eaten.

Many plants are valuable not only for their fruit, seeds and nectar, but also for their leaves. Many birds eat greens. Artemisia sagebrush, believe it or not, is one of these, as well as saltbush, buckwheat, wild strawberry and mountain mahogany.

The berries of toyon, elderberry, dogwood and coffeeberry all offer nutritious food to birds such as Western bluebirds, robins, band-tailed pigeons, mockingbirds, grosbeaks, cedar waxwings, woodpeckers, goldfinches and thrush. Summer holly in particular is a beautiful small tree that are also used by phainopepla, fox sparrows and others. The hips from the wild rose are not only beautiful in the fall and winter, but are a favorite with jays, thrashers, and towhees.

If you are fond of hummingbirds, besides planting natives which offer trumpet-shaped flowers in the spring you should offer plants that offer winter food and shelter. Hummers love to sip nectar from the upside down bell-shaped winter flowers of manzanita. Hummers also scrape the fuzz off the underside of sycamore leaves and use it to line their nests. They love to nest in willows, elderberry and many other natives.

Another very valuable plant which you probably don’t want to plant, but may have on your property, is poison oak. The seeds are eaten by a very wide range of birds and the plant is used all year by them. Unfortunately many humans get a rash from it, but the animals don’t, so consider leaving a patch for them.

Diane and Miranda Kennedy operate Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture at www.vegetariat.com.


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