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Sunday - February 17, 2008

From: Waynesboro, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Plants for birds in Virginia
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Hi there, I would like to plant some bird-friendly shrubs in my backyard, here in the Shenandoah Valley. I have read that birds like winterberries, and I think they are gorgeous. But, this is mid-February, and I see so many winterberry shrubs that still are covered with berries, it makes me wonder if the birds really like them. Thanks.


Ilex verticillata (common winterberry) is, indeed, considered an excellent winter food source for birds, as well as small mammals like squirrels, and even deer. One of the articles we found on winterberry says that birds turn to it in late winter when their favorite foods are gone. Another article referred to it as an emergency food source for birds. Perhaps the reason you are still seeing so many berries on the plants in your neighborhood is that "late winter" or an "emergency" have not yet arrived. If it's not a first choice for birds, and the weather has been mild this winter, they may still be feasting on berries that would ordinarily be frozen and gone by now. That's just speculation on our part; who can tell with birds?

It is, however, a good native choice for landscaping if you don't mind a deciduous holly. Everyone thinks of hollies as having those lovely, glossy, sharp-pointed leaves, and the winterberry is going to drop those in the winter. Another thing you should know about the winterberry is that it is dioecious, which means there must be two sexes available in order for berries to appear. The female has the berries, and you really only need one male around, but it needs to be within about 100 feet of the females. And, finally, before you make a decision to put these in your landscape, be aware that the berries are toxic to humans, especially small children.

You'll find more information in this article Winterberry Holly, Songbirds and the Winter Landscape.

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata



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