Native Bushes for the Birds

A lot of our clients are nature lovers! A question I often get is “Which plants do the birds like?”. Birds love berries and will eat almost any berry. We used to have a holly tree really close to our back window. We really wanted to cut it down because the prickly leaves would wound our feet when we tried to hang out in the back yard. It took awhile to finally give in to getting rid of this tree because for a few weeks each winter it was an amazing display of robins eating the berries right outside the window. To be able to witness this from the couch inside the warm house was fantastic! Not to mention that the cat was really happy. We finally did cut it down since there are about 50 holly trees within 1/2 a mile of our house. But I will never forget the excitement of watching all of those birds feast on the berries, and neither will the cat. We learned how great it is to witness the birds feasting but also that a holly tree right next to the house is not a great idea!

Here are some bushes for the birds:

Inkberry holly

Ilex glabra, is a great foundation shrub. If you are looking to have a more native landscape but also want your landscape to look good year round and look a little more traditional then inkberry is a great solution. It flowers in spring and has great dark berries in the winter. There is also a great compact variety for urban gardens or gardens with little space. Inkberry is versatile and does well in sun or shade. For me it has been a pretty low maintenance shrub, thriving in almost all the gardens we have planted it in. It rarely complains.

Bushes for the Birds

Birds love to eat the berries on Inkberry Holly

Birds love to eat the berries

Birds love to eat the berries


Winterberry holly

Winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata is really great in the winter months when there is very little else going on in the garden. Birds love to eat the berries. There is some debate in the native plant world about whether or not the varieties of winterberry (which promote smaller more compact plants and more profuse, larger berries) are okay for birds. More research has to be done in this area but personally I have seen birds eat berries from all of the varieties of winterberry. If you have a lot of room you can use the original Ilex verticillata which can grow up to 12 ft tall and 8 ft wide. This is nice planted in the background, near a woodsy border. I like to put it somewhere in the garden so it can be easily seen out of a window in the winter. It’s great entertainment for humans and felines to watch the feast of the berries.

If you have less space you can plant a smaller variety of winterberry like Winter Red or Red Sprite. There are many varieties of winterberry and I would recommend heading out to Sun Nurseries to check out the differences now!

Ilex verticillata in woodland garden

Bushes for the Birds


Callicarpa americana is covered in profuse purple berries in the fall. This native shrub is great for birds and is on the lists as ‘deer proof’ although I have seen them peruse. While the deer do munch on it I have not seen them chomp it back all the way to the ground but more like ‘prune’ the beautyberry. I put beautyberry in the same category as forsythia in terms of its vigor after pruning so a little deer chomping may not be so bad. I like to plant it on the edge of the woods or use it to define boundaries. Beautyberry is usually used in partial shade but I’ve put it partial sun as well. I don’t think it would do well in full sun. The herbalist in me wants you to know that there are compounds in beautyberry that repel mosquitos and wine has been made from the berries.

Planting for wildlife in Howard County

Beautyberry berries are palatable to the birds and have been used to make wine!


Sambucus nigra subsp canadensis is a well known plant in our house. We use a tasty syrup of the berries to keep our immune systems boosted as there are two children below the age of 5 in our house. Elderberry syrup actually has antiviral activity which is effective for the common cold! It reduces the severity and duration of our colds and also boosts immunity so we only get 6 colds instead of 8.

Black Lace Elder

Bushes for the Birds

The birds, if they can get to the berries before us, love to feast on the late summer time berries on this plant. I always thought that you needed to plant 2 varieties from the black elder family to get the plants to produce berries. Someone in a garden club has recently told me that they planted 2 of the same and they still set berries. I wonder if they did in subsequent years. Please add comments below if you have info on this. I know that sometimes with some berry setting plants there is usually a pollinator close enough if you live in a dense neighborhood.

Elder shrubs get huge so give them some room! Plant them in an area where they have 10-12ft to grow in. They thrive in full to partial sun.

Black Elder- A good bush for the birds

Black Elder