Evergreen Trees for Birds

Bird-Friendly Landscaping With Evergreen Trees

Pine Warbler in Pine Tree
Photo © Frank Miles / USFWS/Flickr/Public Domain Mark 1.0

Trees are an essential part of all bird-friendly backyards, and evergreen trees are both easy to add to landscaping and ideal for many birds. Because these trees can meet all of birds' critical needs, they should always be on a birder's landscaping list.

What Is an Evergreen Tree?

Evergreen trees are aptly named, as they stay green year-round and always have leaves. It is a misconception that these trees never lose their leaves, however.

In fact, evergreens are constantly shedding and renewing leaves in a continual cycle, unlike deciduous trees that shed all their leaves at once and have bare, empty branches through a dry or cold season.

In northern areas, evergreen trees and shrubs often have smaller, needle-like leaves that better conserve water and keep the plant protected from weather extremes such as bitterly cold winters. In tropical areas, many broad-leafed plants are also evergreen and may shed their lower leaves as they grow new foliage from the crown. For example, both pine trees and palm trees are considered evergreen, though their climates can be dramatically different.

Why Birds Need Evergreens

Because evergreen trees always have intact leaves, they are critical to birds and meet all birds' needs.

  • Food: Many evergreen and coniferous trees produce nuts, seeds, buds or berries that can nourish birds. Because of the nature of these plants, that food may remain intact on the plant throughout even harsh winters, allowing birds to forage more conveniently when other food sources are scarce. Evergreen plants are also home to a variety of insects birds eat.
     
  • Water: The constant foliage of evergreens helps keep the understory beneath the plants moist, providing water for birds and other wildlife. In tropical areas, water collects on broadleaf evergreens, giving small birds a place to bathe as they rub against leaves. In northern areas, needle-like leaves funnel water to the center of the plant, where birds can also have a sip if needed.
     
  • Shelter: Because they do not lose their leaves, evergreens are a constant, reliable shelter for birds. This is especially critical in northern areas where birds can roost in thick pines and other evergreens for shelter from winter storms. The prickly, dense nature of evergreen leaves also helps deter predators and keep birds safer from attacks.
     
  • Nesting Sites: Many bird species nest in evergreen trees, which provide excellent concealment and protection for vulnerable nests. Pine needles are a popular nesting material, and dead bits of broadleaf evergreens may also be used in nests. When the trees die, their wood softens and is ideal for cavity-nesting birds to excavate, and many other birds and other wildlife will also use old nesting cavities.

Best Landscaping Evergreen Trees and Shrubs for Birds

Because evergreen plants are so useful to birds, every backyard birder should have at least a few of these plants in their yard. While the exact plants that are suited to any yard will vary depending on the local climate, available space, soil quality and sun exposure, the most popular evergreens for birdscaped yards include…

  • Bayberry
  • Ceanothus
  • Cedar
  • Fir
  • Hemlock
  • Holly
  • Huckleberry
  • Juniper
  • Madrone
  • Magnolia
  • Manzanita
  • Mugo
  • Palm
  • Palmetto
  • Pine
  • Rhododendron
  • Spruce

There are many varieties of each of these plant types, and different varieties may grow to different sizes or have significantly different shapes, growth rates and mature appearances. With such a selection to choose from, there is an evergreen option ideal for every birder's yard.

Making the Most of Your Evergreens

While adding an evergreen to the yard is a good step for any bird-friendly landscaping, it can be a much better step if more thought is put into the plant selection and how it will work in an individual yard. When planning evergreens for the yard, consider…

  • Selecting native varieties that will be best adapted to local climate, weather and soil conditions. These plants will thrive most easily with the least care, and will be more recognizable to regional birds as well as passing migrants.
     
  • Creating layers of evergreen protection in the yard with both tall and mid-sized trees as well as lower shrubs and ground covers. This will strengthen resources for birds and provide better protection for many species.
     
  • Making evergreens do double duty, such as creating a windbreak or grouping of plants that will also shelter a feeding station or bird bath. At the same time, evergreens can provide shade for patios or homes to save on energy costs.
     
  • Saving cuttings from evergreen pruning or shaping and adding them to a brush pile, or leaving bits available for birds to use as nesting material. Evergreen boughs can also be great natural decorations for bird houses or add interest to planters.

Evergreen trees serve many purposes for birds, and they are a critical part of all bird habitats. By adding the appropriate evergreens to a bird-friendly landscape, backyard birders will enhance the sanctuary they provide to every visiting bird.