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EXTENSION COLUMN: Gardening for the birds

Our bird feeders are full of winter visitors, woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and sparrows, and fortunately for them, I have a kind spouse who keeps the feeders full.

As gardeners, we can also plan our gardens to feed the birds during the growing season and into the winter. By selecting plants that provide food and shelter and making sure the birds have access to some water, our winter visitors will thrive.

As you select the plants for this year's garden, why not include a few of the following:

Purple Cone Flowers: This hardy perennial is a garden staple. Its large blooms attract butterflies and other pollinators during the summer and provide seeds for goldfinches and other birds in the fall.

Sunflowers: Many birds use the sunflower seeds to fuel their long migrations. Leave them on the stem to dry, and observe the flocks of birds stop for a bite on their way south.

Milkweed: I know what you're thinking. Isn't milkweed, well, a weed? Not necessarily. Some cultivars behave themselves and are a lovely addition to your landscape. Some birds, like the American goldfinch, use the fiber from the milkweed to spin nests for their chicks. Goldfinches, and other birds, also use the downy part of the seed to line their nests.

Cardinal flower: While few insects are able to reach the base of the long tubular flowers, hummingbirds feast on the cardinal flower's nectar with their elongated beaks. Cardinal flower is a perennial, hardy to zone 3, with a clumping habit and brilliant red flower spikes.

Viburnum: Yes, shrubs are a perfect, bird-friendly garden addition, especially if they bear fruit. Viburnums provide shelter, and their fall fruit persists into the winter. They attract robins, bluebirds, finches, cardinals and waxwings.

Crabapples: Crabapple trees provide some of the same benefits as viburnum on a larger scale. Place within sight of a window, and you'll have a lovely spring display. Hang birdfeeders from the branches throughout the season and you will have a variety of birds year round. Choose a variety with small fruits. Crabapples attract robins, bluebirds, cardinals, waxwings, pine grosbeaks, finches and many others.

Wild grape: Wild grapes are fall fruiting vines that are eaten by more than 50 species of birds. The dense foliage provides shelter and nesting sites. Wild grape vines attract robins, bluebirds, cardinals, wild turkeys, pileated woodpeckers and many others.

For more information on gardening for birds, visit

Until next time, happy gardening!