I was sitting on the deck just today, overlooking my rear gardens and particularly enjoying the wildlife that frequents my urban sanctuary. Living in the heart of a Canadian city, within only a block of a heavily traveled route and an area supporting one of the highest population densities, one would expect noise, pollution and only two and four-legged wildlife. Fortunately, my yard attracts a fair contingent of feather friends, most of them delightful. Upon closer scrutiny combined with some recollection it came to mind that the native trees that I planted a few years back was the major reason for attracting the birds.
Native plants of all manner are tremendously beneficial for any landscape for several reason. Primarily, these plants are already fully adapted and hardy for your growing conditions as well as requiring considerably less maintenance than many horticultural varieties. Additionally, the wildlife, particularly birds, rely on the fruit of many species for nutrition. Naturally, as with any description of tree, shade and shelter are provided.
One of the most reliable and best examples is the Canadian native tree Showy Mountain Ash. There are a great many non-native Mountain Ash species, however even though all produce clusters of attractive berries ranging from orange through deep crimson, birds will choose native berries ahead of the other species. The tree is not huge, reaching an average of 4.5M (15 feet) with a marginal spread of 3M (10 feet) which makes it a good selection for urban landscapes. The specimen that I have branches freely, to the point that I often prune select branches out to keep the tree more open, my yard is shady enough. The leaves are rather ‘feathery-like” which allows them to move freely in the ever-present winds as well, the undersides are equally attractive. In the very early stages of growth the foliage is hairy, catching water droplets which reflect and give a wonderful glistening effect all over. The early birds such as my robins and wrens seem to be attracted to the white flowers as are the native bees. Periodically, the local family of squirrels visit to munch on the new, soft twigs, scuffle about destroying some of the foliage, not great! The flower clusters are readily pollinated of course by the eager bee population but also by wind. Native plants in general are very well adapted, boasting several ways to ensure pollination and therefore regeneration.
The clusters of fruit are usually visible in late summer to early autumn depending on the level of moisture over the summer. Watering is very important in the drier regions of the country as Showy Mountain Ash prefers full sun exposure, therefore often a harsh condition. My tree grows in rather heavy, clay soil with no apparent adverse reaction to Ph or texture, another strong benefit for planting a native tree. Mature berries are crimson and plentiful, much to the agreement of the local flocks that gorge themselves before migrating. Quite often there will be clusters or partial clusters of berries left on my tree which persist right through the winter. One benefit of this habit is that there will be a spot of colour from time to time, peeking through the snow laden branches, very pleasing in mid February. My neighbours have asked why so many birds come to my yard and not theirs, “we have bird feeders”. The fact is that many birds either do not have seeds as part of their natural diet or some species eat small amounts of seeds but depend on other sources for nutrition not found in seed sources. One of my standard responses is that my visiting birds may help their gardens develop native trees such as mine as they ‘drop’ seeds everywhere. In nature, outside of the urban setting, this is a major aspect of plant distribution for this species. As such, the native population is expanding with a heavier influence in northern Ontario spreading across the Prairie provinces. Of note, it is rather amusing to witness ‘party birds’ in the very early spring once they have consumed the now fermented berries. Without a doubt some of them over indulged and pay the price as they attempt to fly home to the nest!