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Peffley: South Plains winter landscaping can attract birds

Winter gardening in Lubbock does not have to be desolate. A landscape plan that brings into the garden trees, shrubs, and other plants that offer food and protection will attract birds throughout the year and into the winter months.

Principle elements essential to attract birds to the garden are sources of fresh water, food and shelter — the more varied the sources of these the greater the likelihood of visits by different species. Summer months are abundant with diverse food sources but unless planting strategies were done with food sources in mind food, sources during the winter months can be scanty. Including just a few berry- and seed-producing trees and shrubs invites birds to the garden by providing food and shelter.

Coniferous evergreens make excellent bird-friendly backbone plantings since they maintain foliage year round. Pines, juniper, spruce and arborvitae bear cones and berries; their narrow leaves and dense foliage offer shelter. Broad-leaved evergreens such as Nandia, Pyracantha, Photinia and Mahonia produce berries in the autumn, many of which persist into the winter. Species of Ilex, such as Yaupon, Chinese, Japanese and American holly have female plants that are prolific producers of berries.

Of deciduous trees producing berries and seeds, the Chinese pistachio or Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) gives beautiful autumn colors of crimson, orange and magenta as well as seeds that draw cardinals. Only females develop berries. Be forewarned that the female, in addition to the added benefit of the berries, sheds the fruit stems and creates trash under the canopy.

Other deciduous species with winter interest and berries are Melia azedarach, the Chinaberry tree, but without the stunning autumn colors; crabapples, Malus spp., have showy spring blooms, autumn colors, and fruit that can last into winter.

Providing a habitat that attracts birds has its rewards.

A juvenile American bittern paid a surprise, uncommon, thrilling visit to our garden this summer and stayed long enough for its image to be documented on camera. Birds of these species are migratory, rare west of the Trans-Pecos but scattered as far as the Panhandle.

As members of the heron family, American bitterns are solitary carnivores that feed on snakes, insects and mice and are usually found among marshes and reedy growth. If alarmed they stand with their long, straight and sharply pointed dagger-like bill pointed skyward. They patiently stand motionless when stalking prey. Necks can appear short and sturdy or extended, appearing long and slender as in the photo.

If interested in bird watching and identification, the Lubbock Memorial Arboretum, 4111 University Ave., will host a program and tour led by Anthony Hewetson of the local Audubon Society at 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7. The tour follows established paths within the fenced area of the arboretum. A second tour at 10 a.m. continues around the lake. Wear walking shoes and bring binoculars and field guide if you have them. Call (806) 797-4520 for more information.

Some information from The Texas breeding bird atlas; The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

ELLEN PEFFLEY taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at

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