Can Mistletoe Really Attract More Birds To Your Yard?

Mistletoe has been a staple in winter traditions for years, and adding it to your yard could be extremely beneficial for wild birds. As the weather becomes frigid, many food sources that birds rely on go away, but mistletoe grows berries even in bitter temperatures. For some birds, such as evening grosbeaks, bluebirds, mourning doves, robins, pigeons, and grouse, the berries of the mistletoe plant are crucial for getting enough food in the winter.

Additionally, the way that mistletoe impacts the trees it grows on can provide more places for birds to nest, giving them shelter from rough conditions. By placing mistletoe near your bird feeder or growing the shrub, you can help birds throughout the winter and bring more species to your yard. While this plant is beneficial for wild birds and some other animals, such as deer and chipmunks, there are dangers to having mistletoe in your garden as it is toxic to humans and some pets. According to the ASPCA, mistletoe is harmful to cats, dogs, and horses.

Why birds love mistletoe

Mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant because it takes nutrients and water directly from living trees. This does not kill every tree that is infected and will not rapidly spread through forests, but the damage left behind by mistletoe makes a great shelter for birds. According to the National Wildlife Federation, forests that have an abundance of mistletoe are likely to have three times as many birds that nest in cavities due to the trees killed by the parasitic plant. Mistletoe itself can also make great coverage for birds, as it has dense brush that grows into a shape similar to a basket. Western tanagers, gray jays, and other birds will hide in mistletoe, while raptors may also use it as shelter.

Besides the berries being an enticing snack for feathered friends, providing it to them will allow more to grow in the area. When wild birds eat mistletoe, they do not digest the seeds. These seeds will then pass through their systems and begin growing more plants, providing even more food and nesting sites in the future.

How to safely attract birds with mistletoe

Because mistletoe can be toxic to people and pets, it's crucial to keep it in an area that's difficult for children or domesticated animals to reach. This can be done by placing a few pieces of mistletoe onto your hanging bird feeder, where outdoor cats can't jump up and snag a few berries. Once the birds have picked away at the holiday plant, simply replace it and watch it be enjoyed by a variety of feathered friends. With a little mistletoe, you can attract birds to your yard throughout winter.

If you live near the woods, you may also be able to spread the seeds inside the berries near the border of your property. This will provide better opportunities for nesting over time, rather than just a quick snack for a few lucky birds. This may not be the best option for those with small children or pets, as the berries would be easier to access. If a family member or pet ingests any part of the mistletoe plant, contact a medical professional or veterinarian right away.