Providing Food for Neighborhood Birds

Providing Food for Neighborhood Birds
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Providing Food for the BirdsFeeding the birds during the cold weather is one of my favorite winter activities. There are many different bird-seeds and feeders available for every type of bird imaginable, but what about seeds that are still on the plants? Would this provide food for the birds as well?

The first plant that comes to mind as a favorite of the birds is sunflowers. Whether the large, traditional variety, or the smaller sunflowers such as Italian White, the birds love the seeds and will visit all winter long until they've exhausted the supply. Goldfinches visit my Italian White sunflowers with abandon each time I plant them.

Echinacea, or Coneflower, is another favorite of birds after it blooms and goes to seed. Finches and chickadees are small enough to perch on the seed heads and feed, though the cheerful chickadee will snatch seed to hide for later in the winter.

Bergamot or Beebalm leave sturdy seed heads that will feed the birds in the fall and winter. It's pretty in the herb garden, but will also work as a wildflower. The wild variety is a pretty pastel purple, but I have a variety with deep pink blooms that is beautiful.

Meadowsweet and St. John's Wort are two old time herbs that attract bees and butterflies when they bloom, and birds enjoy the seed heads after they have formed.

Lavender is known for its fragrant buds and flowers, but it's also food for goldfinches when it forms seeds. Consider leaving a few of the flowers on the plant as you harvest it.

Native or ornamental grasses are also popular with the birds and provide beauty for the winter landscape. I leave my grasses all winter and cut them down in early spring before the new growth begins.

Globe thistle is another perennial with rounded seed heads that provide food for the birds. It's extremely drought tolerant, and doesn't spread the way wild thistle does, so it can be grown in the flower or herb bed without a problem.

Teasel, a wildflower, is an amazing wildlife plant, including providing seeds for the birds, but it should never be grown in a flower or herb bed because it will take over. If you have an area that can be given over to the wildlife or wildflowers, it will be a good addition, but otherwise it's considered a roadside plant.

Other plants that produce seeds that can be left for the birds include:
Russian sage, asters, zinnia, coreopsis, penstemon, sedum, salvia, black-eyed Susan, cosmos, marigolds, and bachelor’s buttons.

Though leaving seed heads on your plants for the birds is a wonderful idea, be sure to clean up the flower, herb and vegetable beds as usual. Don't leave other plant foliage that should be cut back such as peony, hosta, ferns, bleeding heart or other perennials. Leaving debris or foliage that will soften when hit with frost may harbor insects and disease. Clean up the landscape, but with an eye towards leaving seed heads for the birds that keep us company in the winter.


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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