Bird-friendly planting: An ode to evergreen huckleberry

Did you know that February is National Bird Feeding Month? The origins of this date back to 1994 when February was recognized as one of the toughest months for wild birds in the United States to access food, water, and shelter.

With the help of the flora and fauna experts at the King County Parks Volunteer Program, we’re diving into the topic of gardening with native plants that can serve as food sources to wild birds in the winter months. We’re starting off with the evergreen huckleberry, but let us know if you want to hear more about other native plants that can best support birds!

A flowering evergreen huckleberry shrub with pale pink flowers.
Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) in bloom. Photo courtesy of Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database.

The evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) is one of the last berries out at the end of the season. Full of flavonoids, vitamins and nutrients, the berries provide important habitat and forage food for migrating and resident birds alike.

A tall shrub, evergreen huckleberry prefers partial sun but can tolerate a range of light conditions. It’s often found at the forest edge, along clear cuts, or forest openings. Its berry is edible for animals, birds, and people. The small berry can be hard to spot at first glance, but take a closer look and you’ll find dark berries lined up along the stem beneath the plant’s waxy leaves.

The dark red berries & glossy, serrated edge leaves of a evergreen huckleberry.
A fruiting evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). Photo courtesy of Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database.

On a recent late fall walk, we spotted a mob of bushtits ascend on an evergreen huckleberry bush in someone’s backyard. It’s hard not to smile watching a foraging group of bushtits tweet and rapidly flit from branch to branch. Hanging off sturdy branches, the bushtits quickly scoured the shrub looking for small aphids and other insects. As quick as they landed, they were off again to the next food source. 

A fluffy bushtit sitting on a branch, head cocked curiously.
A bushtit showing some of that rambunctious personality. Photo courtesy of Devin Grady for the Audubon Photography Awards.

When it comes to introducing native species in your own yard, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Native plants are adapted to our local environment, which means they can actually require less water and care than other plants once established. Planting native trees and plants in your yard supports native insects, creates habitat, and provides nutrient-rich food for local birds (and other wildlife!)

Start small. Even adding one to two native shrubs will increase food availability for local birds. Think about the impact you could have if everyone in your neighborhood block planted one to two native shrubs in their yard. Small actions add up to big impacts when done collectively.

Wondering what to plant? The Audubon has a website that suggests native plants for your yard by zip code. The website also shares which birds benefit from which plants. Still wondering what to plant? Give the evergreen huckleberry a try. 

Someone in workwear & a mask holding up a Himalayan Blackberry leaf & explaining to folks at a volunteer event.
Crescent, our Volunteer Coordinator, speaking about Himalayan Blackberry.

If you join us at one of our Parks volunteer events, our staff will provide lots of hands-on environmental education about plants and wildlife habitat throughout the day. This is also a great way to learn more, especially if you’re someone who learns best through discussion and hands-on experience.

If you’re still craving more, here are some additional resources we recommend for learning about native birds and plants:

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