A few weeks ago, as I dumped the last of my birdseed into the feeder, I watched a mockingbird dart in and out of my fruit trees. My first thought was that he was going to eat my olives – oh no! I hung up the feeder and moved back in hopes of seeing more birds. I saw them… in the fruit trees. They only briefly visited the feeder, if at all.
Birds don’t naturally eat from metal and glass tubes hanging from ornamental hooks. They really prefer to forage for insects, nuts, seeds and fruit. In fact, bird feeders can contribute to the spread of disease if not washed and dried regularly. You purchase bird seed usually in plastic bags which uses plastic and gasoline, and you have to refill the seed and restock your supply, using those resources over and over again.
Plant It Once
There is an alternative. You could attract birds to your yard with common landscaping plants. Many fruit eating birds will be hopping from limb to limb and insectivores will chase small insects. Your yard will become a habitat and haven for songbirds to build nests, eat, and cavort rather than simply pass through for a quick nibble.
For a striking understory shrub that likes shade to part sun, try American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. It blooms delicate pink flowers followed by clusters of berries that line the stems that ripen to a brilliant purple. Mockingbirds, catbirds, vireos, and woodpeckers will line up to get these tasty berries. If they happen to leave any, you can make jelly or wine with the ripe berries. Crushing their leaves and rubbing on your skin can be an effective insect repellent.
The nutmeg-like scent of this small tree’s leaves may be enough to entice you to plant one, but the fragrant blooms and ripe red fruit will close the deal. The Simpson Stopper, Myricanthes frangrans, also know as Nakedwood Twinberry, will attract catbirds, cardinals, and mockingbirds, along with tons of pollinators. The pulp from the ripe fruit is edible, not the seed.
If you are looking for a low-maintenance plant that can thrive in full sun and sandy soil, you may want to check out Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria. This plant is dioeciuos, meaning that there are separate male and female plants. Only the female plant of this large, evergreen shrub produces bright red berries. They attract a wide variety of birds – mourning doves, quail, ducks, turkeys, and robins. The berries are poisonous to humans, but the leaves can be made into a delicious tea.
Coco plum, Chrysobalanus icaco, is a beautiful shrub for part-shade that can get up to 15 feet tall, or be manicured into a hedge or privacy screen. There is also a low growing variety. They bear fruit that can range from white or pink to dark purple which have a mild flavor and can be made into a jelly. The leaves have a unique texture that make the plant stand out in your landscaping. . The seeds can be roasted and used like almonds. Birds go crazy over the fruit, and bees loves the small white blooms.
If you’ve ever noticed a strikingly shiny leafed shrub in a shady park or roadside, it may have been Wild Coffee, Pyschotria nervosa. There are a few different varieties that are native to Florida. Bees and butterflies love the blooms, and cardinals and blue jays feast on the red berries. You can use the berries to make a black coffee like drink but I’ve heard it’s not delicious. If a berry happens to be eaten by a foraging toddler, that’s completely fine because they are edible.