October 2019 Program Recap

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October Program Recap by Joyce Tuharsky

Native Plantings for Winter Birds
Presented by Melanie Manion

No one is more enthusiastic than Melanie Manion when it comes to using native plants to feed birds during the winter. Melanie, Natural Resources Manager of Ottawa County Parks, says she is a bit lazy when it comes to filling and keeping bird feeders clean during winter months. Also, gathering birds together at one feeding site increases the possibility of spreading diseases. Instead, Melanie advocates filling your landscape with a variety of native plants that will provide a diverse seed source for birds throughout winter.

Goldenrod can be considered a keystone plant, supporting a number of insect species all year which in turn are eaten by birds. In the winter, because there are Goldenrod species for every eco-type in Michigan, they are an important seed source for many birds: Pine Siskins, Juncos, Tree Sparrows, and American Goldfinches. Other important sources of seed for winter birds include grasses such as Little Bluestem and Indiangrass, and composite flowers including coneflowers and asters.

Some birds, especially woodpeckers, need a lot of lipids (fat) in their diet. In the summer, they rely on insects for lipids. In the winter, they turn to seeds or berries that are high in fat content. Native species that have seeds high in lipids which birds love to eat include: Wild grape, Virginia creeper, Staghorn sumac, Black gum, and all dogwoods.

Many native shrubs grow berries that birds enjoy. The berries of Hazelnut and Michigan holly attract Wood Thrushes, Ruffed Grouse, Northern Flickers, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Elderberries have hollow stems used by wasps to over-winter. Birds will drill into the stems to eat the insects. Cedar waxwings love the berries of Common juniper and Highbush cranberry.

Oaks, Musclewood and other trees with deep fissures in their bark will harbor insects, even in winter. These insects are sought out by Brown creepers and woodpeckers.

Evergreens are used by many birds for shelter during the winter. Therefore, to attract winter birds, it is recommended that 30% of your landscape be planted in evergreens such as pines, cedars, and hemlocks.