The Best Berries for Birds

In the past we have emphasized the importance of keystone species in supporting bird populations, and by extension broader food webs. These species are larval hosts to a wide variety of lepidoptera, supporting caterpillars that then become food for baby birds in summer. But what do birds eat in the winter when the caterpillars are gone? They eat berries! The berries that grow on native trees and shrubs provide food for wildlife in the fall and winter months when other food sources are scarce.

Migratory songbirds find these berries especially valuable as they make their journey south. But are all berries created equal? In 2015, Susan Smith and Scott McWilliams published the results of a study that analyzed the nutritional value of native berries and ranked their value to migratory birds. They suggest “planting or encouraging the growth of at least two species from the ‘Highly recommended’ list plus plant species from the other lists when possible.” Consider the three lists below when looking for the best berries for birds.  

Highly recommended and preferred by migratory birds

Common Name Scientific Name Photo
Arrowwood Viburnum Viburnum dentatum
Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Gray Dogwood Cornus racemosa
Silky Dogwood Cornus amomum
Redosier Dogwood Cornus sericea

Recommended and eaten by many migratory songbirds

Common Name Scientific Name Photo
Serviceberry Amelanchier canadensis
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis
Spicebush Lindera benzoin
Pokeweed Phytolacca americana
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida
Chokecherry Prunus virginiana
Highbush Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum

Recommended and eaten by a few migratory songbirds and overwintering birds

Common Name Scientific Name Photo
Northern Bayberry Morella pensylvanica
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Black Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa
Mapleleaf Viburnum Viburnum acerifolium

Joseph stewart at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons; Cropped

Nannyberry Viburnum Viburnum lentago

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