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Many people feed garden birds in winter – but a steady food source is equally important right through spring and into summer.

In spring, birds need to be in tip-top condition for the breeding season. And when that brood comes along, there are hungry mouths to feed.

Even though the days are now longer and warmer, some natural sources of food that were abundant in autumn, such as berries, are no longer available.

While garden feeders full of calorie-rich foods such as sunflower seeds or suet treats can really help, an even better idea is to grow plants that provide a natural food source for birds.

Feeding the birds can help them survive a cold winter. But a better way to help them year-round is to create a habitat that provides natural food and shelter

Sunflower by David Travis on Unsplash


Grow your own

bird food

House sparrow

Wild animals, including birds, shouldn't be reliant on humans – so creating habitats packed with food and places where creatures can shelter is vital.

So which plants should you grow to help garden birds? Plants that produce berries and seeds are an obvious choice. But nectar-rich flowers are also essential, as these will attract insects – a major source of nutrition for many bird species.

Here are some suggestions.


Teasels, globe thistles and dandelions all produce seeds that are eaten by goldfinches, house sparrows, bullfinches and linnets.

Goldfinch on a teasel

Goldfinch on a teasel by Steve Harrris on Unsplash

Dandelion seed

Dandelions are particularly useful as, unlike many other plants, they begin to seed as early as April – and continue to produce seed right into autumn. As an added bonus the sunny, nectar-rich blooms of dandelions attract all kinds of insects.

Teasels produce attractive architectural seedheads in autumn, which look great when dusted with frost or snow. Goldfinches and sparrows enjoy picking out the seeds.

Sunflowers are cheap and easy to grow from seed. Start them off indoors in May and transplant outside after the risk of frost has passed. As well as providing nectar for insects such as bumblebees, the flowers produce large seed heads with hundreds of seeds that will attract all sorts of birds. And they look beautiful too!


There are lots of trees and shrubs that produce berries – these are an important food source for birds in autumn and winter, when insect numbers are dwindling and frozen soil makes it hard to get to worms and other invertebrates.

Rowan berries are popular with thrushes. Rowan is a good choice of tree for exposed locations, as it copes well with harsh winter weather – hence its other name, mountain ash.

Rowan berries

Hawthorn produces berries that are eaten by blackbirds, redwings, fieldfares, starlings and greenfinches. Hawthorn leaves are the foodplant for moth caterpillars, which provide food for baby birds in spring.

Holly berries stay on the tree well into winter, offering nutrition through the harshest months. The prickly leaves offer excellent protection from predators.

Many shrubs and climbers produce berries that are enjoyed by birds. Ivy is particularly useful, as along with its berries – which blackbirds are fond of – this climbing plant also produces nectar-rich insect-attracting flowers. As ivy is an evergreen, it offers good shelter for nesting and roosting birds too.

Blackbird eating berries

Blackbird eating berries by Chris on Unsplash

Honeysuckle is another climber that offers the double benefits of berries and blossoms. As a vertical climber, it's a good plant to grow where space is limited – and its sweet-scented flowers are particularly fragrant at night, attracting pollinating moths.

For shrubs that produce berries, try cotoneaster, pyracantha or berberis – all are low-maintenance plants that produce bountiful berries in autumn, as well as protective shelter for birds.


Fruit trees such as apple, plum and pear have nectar-rich spring blossoms that attract all sorts of insects.

Blackbirds and thrushes will feed on apples – share the crop with them by leaving a few apples on the tree at harvest time, and leaving windfalls for the birds to enjoy.


Plum trees provide food for a wide variety of butterfly and moth species, and birds and mammals eat the fruits.

Crab apple is a good choice to include in a wildlife hedge. The fruits are enjoyed by blackbirds and starlings.

Nectar-rich plants

While most birds don't feed on nectar themselves, there are many bird species that feed on the insects that are attracted to nectar-rich flowers.

If you increase the number of insects visiting your garden or community green space, insect-eating birds such bluetits, robins, wrens, house sparrows, swallows and house martins should soon follow.

To attract more insects, plant up perennials such as lavender, penstemons, sedums, catmint and scabious.

Annual flowers are a good choice too, and are easy to grow. For the cost of a couple of packets of seed, you can create swathes of colour in flower borders and patio pots – or even amongst vegetable crops in the allotment. Try cosmos, calendula, cornflowers, poached egg plant (pictured above), nigella and nasturtiums. Avoid the frilly, double-flowered types, as these tend to offer less nectar than the simple varieties, and are harder for insects to access.

And a really easy way to attract more insects – and therefore more insect-eating birds – is to allow some areas of grass to grow long. Avoid mowing a patch of lawn, and see which wildflowers pop up – you should see daisies, buttercups and clover appear quite quickly – and you might even see cowslips, harebells or orchids.

Long grass creates an excellent habitat for all sorts of invertebrates, as well as frogs, toads and small mammals. Birds and bats will be attracted by the increased insect activity – and leaving an area of long grass means you spend less time mowing, and more time enjoying your garden!

Poached egg plant
Long grass and buttercups

Little Green Space May 2022

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