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Bill Marchel: Berries for birds

A bird friendly backyard not only provides treasured food and habitat for our feathered friends, but also increases the aesthetics and value of our property.

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This male northern cardinal is feeding on arrowwood berries, another fruit-bearing shrub that attracts a variety of birds. Contributed / Bill Marchel

For more than two decades I’ve worked to attract wildlife to 70 acres of land I own not far from town.

Since the beginning I've had five ponds excavated to attract and hold wetland wildlife like ducks and herons. In addition, I have planted food plots that draw deer and other wildlife, improved timber stands for ruffed grouse and other wildlife by thinning and selective cutting, and have planted thousands of trees and shrubs, each with a specific intention. The work is very rewarding.

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The fruit of American elderberry shrubs are fed on by a variety of birds like this cedar waxwing. Contributed / Bill Marchel

Equally rewarding has been landscaping my yard with fruit-bearing trees and shrubs meant to attract and hold birds year around. Many species of birds rely on fruit, especially when insects are scarce, or during winter when bugs are nonexistent.


You don’t have to own land to successfully lure wildlife with your plantings, nor do you need to live in the country. Wildlife will respond to your habitat improvement efforts even if you reside in the heart of a metropolitan area. Now is a good time to plan your bird-friendly backyard improvement project. Not only is early fall an excellent time to plant, but sometimes nurseries have good deals because they want to sell out their stock before winter.

Related: Bill Marchel: Dealing with drought
Of course, for plants to grow here in Minnesota they need to be cold hardy. Fruit bearing tree species to consider are crabapple (red-splendor is my favorite), mountain ash, and black cherry.

In more confined areas where trees might be too large, fruit-bearing shrubs will not only attract birds, but will add beauty to any landscape project, too. Shrubs can be placed singular next to homes or garages, or can be planted close together and trimmed to form hedges and boundaries.

Try to plant a variety of trees and shrub species that will provide food for wildlife throughout the year. For example, scarlet elder produces fruit in early summer; red-osier dogwood and serviceberry in mid-summer; grey dogwood, American elderberry, arrowwood and chokecherry in late summer. Highbush cranberry, mountain ash and crabapple ripen in the fall and hold their colorful bird-attracting fruit through the winter.

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A backyard planted to attract birds should include a crabapple tree or two. This male pine grosbeak has its feathers fluffed against the winter cold as it feeds on crabapples. Contributed / Bill Marchel

Your entire landscape plan need not be accomplished in one season. However, the sooner you get started, the quicker you'll realize the rewards. When you gaze in awe at a flock of pine grosbeaks as they descend upon your crabapple tree on a cold winter day, or when cedar waxwings gather to feed on elderberries, you'll know all your labors were well worth it.

Keep this in mind, too: A bird friendly backyard not only provides treasured food and habitat for our feathered friends, but also increases the aesthetics and value of our property. A win, win.


Related: Bill Marchel: Entice summer birds to your backyard

BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at bill@billmarchel.com. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.

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