Food for birds and other wildlife at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

I thought it might be interesting to compile a list of all the natural food sources around the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, used by wildlife. I include only plants on which I have actually seen birds or other wildlife feed.

Many are obvious, of course, the crabapples, mountain ash, wild grape, sumac, and cones of various conifers. What I find interesting, and hope you do too, is the number of weedy plants that are used by wildlife, mostly birds, and mostly sparrows, finches and chickadees. Plants such as lamb’s quarters, cow vetch, brome grass, and so on, many with tiny seeds. Unfortunately, while I have many photos of birds and squirrels feeding on the big stuff… the cones and tree fruits, for example, it has been difficult to photograph birds on the weedy plants. They fly away the moment I come withing photographic distance.

The list given below can surely be added to, and surely I have forgotten some plants too! Please let me know if you have seen wildlife feeding on a species not listed below. By leaving the weedy plants standing over the winter, we are providing a wide and varied food source for our local wildlife.

The asterisk * indicates a non-native species.

*Amaranthus (Amaranthus sp.)
*Amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense)
*Amur maple (Acer ginnala)
Ash seeds (Fraxinus)
Birch catkins (Betula)
*Brome grass (Bromus inermis)
*Buckthorn, both species (Rhamnus cathartica, R. frangula)
*Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
Canada elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
*Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)
*Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
*Common burdock (Arctium minus)
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
*Common plantain (Plantago major)
*Cow vetch (Vicia cracca)
*Crabapples (Malus spp.)
Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
*Curly dock (Rumex crispus)
*Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
Juniper (Juniperus)
*Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album)
*Mallow (Malva moschata)
*Manitoba maple (Acer negundo)
*Mullein (Verbascum thapsis)
New england aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
*Peppergrass (Lepidium densiflorum)
Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
*Red clover (Trifolium pretense)
Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
*Sow thistle (Sonchus)
Speckled alder (Alnus incana)
*Spotted lady-thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
Spruce spp. (Picea)
Staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta)
Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima)
*Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
*Timothy (Phleum pratense)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea)
*White clover (Trifolium repens)
*White sweet clover (Melilotus alba)
Wild grape (Vitis riparia)
Wild lettuce, Canada and prickly (Lactuca canadensis, L. scariola)
Wild raspberry (Rubus strigosus)



A Wild Banquet for Birds and Mammals

A well stocked wild banquet for wildlife can be found in woods and meadows, roadsides and shorelines, gardens and parklands, in fact, wherever plants grow. Of course, there is more to the diet of many birds and animals than plant-based foods, but that is what we’ll be looking at here, as the variety is fascinating and, in winter, many birds seek out seeds and fruit from the plants below.

Apart from the obvious such as acorns and walnuts, fruit trees and wild grapes, there are many unremarkable looking little plants that most of us never pay much heed to, that also feed birds. And there are nutrients to be found in plant sources that come from neither seed or fruit. Below is a list of the plants I’ve observed birds and small mammals (squirrels, chipmunks, cottontail rabbits, meadow voles and mice) feeding on. This is by no means complete. Sometimes I forget to write down what I have observed, and sometimes I forget who has been feeding on what. There are many plants that, I am certain, feed birds and animals, but I’ve not yet seen feeding activity on them. This list should be considered very preliminary and is based only on my own observations, not those of others. It is also restricted to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, including the Backyard Garden. Expanding beyond the boundaries of the garden would introduce other food sources to the list. Why not start your own list and observe who eats what this winter?

Plants also harbour insects and spiders, either eggs, larvae or adults, and birds with a taste for invertebrates are frequently found gleaning treats from leaves, twigs, stems, branches, flowers, of grasses, shrubs and trees. But that is a topic for another day.

Also for another day, is the use of so many of these plants, by insects, including of course, butterflies.

Plants are listed alphabetically by common name. An asterisk next to the name indicates the plant is not a native. Many (not all) of these non-indigenous plants have been around for well over a hundred years, or two, thus it is no surprise that wildlife has adapted to feed on them.

*Amur corktree (Phellodenron amurense) fruit
*Amur maple (Acer ginnala) seeds
Bee balm (Monarda) nectar
Birch (Betula) seeds
*Black walnut (Juglans nigra) nuts
Bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) nectar
*Brome grass (Bromus inermis) seeds
*Buckthorn, both species (Rhanmnus cathartica, R. frangula) fruit
*Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) seeds
Canada elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) fruit
Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) seeds
*Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) seeds
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) nectar
*Chickory (Cichorium intybus) seeds
Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) fruit
*Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) flowers
*Common burdock (Arctium minus) seeds
*Common plantain (Plantago major) seeds
*Cosmos daisies (Cosmos) seeds
*Crabapples (Malus) fruit
*Curly dock (Rumex crispus) seeds
*Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) seeds
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) seeds
*Garden phlox (Phlox) nectar
*Goldflame honeysuckle (Lonicera) nectar
*Green amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) seeds
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) nectar
*Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) seeds
Large-toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata) buds, seeds
*Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) seeds
*Mallow (Malva moschata) seeds
*Manitoba maple (Acer negundo) seeds, tree sap, bark, buds
*Mountain ash (Sorbaria) fruit
*Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) seeds
New england aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglia) seeds
*Norway spruce (Picea abies) seeds
*Orache (Atriplex prostrata) seeds
*Peppergrass (Lepidum) seeds
Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) fruit
*Prickly lettuce (Lactuca scariola) seeds
*Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare) seeds
Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) seeds
Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) fruit
Red juniper (Red cedar) (Juniperus virginiana) fruit
Red oak (Quercus rubra ) acorns
Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) fruit
*Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) seeds
Serviceberry (Amelanchie) fruit
*Sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis) seeds
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) seeds, tree sap, bark, buds
*Sunflowers (Helianthus species) seeds
Staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta) seeds, bark
Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) seeds
*Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) fruit
*Timothy (Phleum pratense) seeds
Trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) buds, seeds
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) nectar
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus vitacea) fruit
White ash (Fraxinus americana) seeds
White cedar (Thuja occidentalis) seeds
White spruce (Picea glauca) seeds, buds
*White sweet clover (Melilotus alba) seeds
Wild grape (Vitis riparia) fruit
Wild lettuce/Canada lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) seeds
Wild raspberry (Rubus strigosus) fruit
Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) fruit