The Allure of Autumn Berries

Our native berries are, for many of our favourite garden birds, a best friend in Autumn (I have to admit I’m partial to a handful of deftly picked Blackberries while out birding myself!) –  they offer a brilliant food source to summer visitors still to move south, residents keen to make the most of a food bonanza and freshly arrived migrants from across the North Sea passing through or here for the winter.

In coastal areas brambles or blackberries and elderberries are my favourites when it comes to seeking out birds. If you can find a good stand of blackberries it’s worth locating yourself quietly nearby with a pair of binoculars and just watching, I’ve been lucky enough to find or see a number of rarities just through patiently and regularly watching big stands of brambles near the coast – Barred Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail and Red-backed Shrike to name but three.

I’m also lucky enough to have two large Elderberries adjacent to our garden, one just a couple of metres from the bedroom window. Both of these appeared self-seeded, presumably from seeds eaten by birds then dropped nearby on fertile ground. These inevitably provide a food source for autumn warblers, particularly Blackcaps as they move south. I’ve lost count of the number of mornings I’ve been woken by the hard ‘tac’ calls through an open window of one or more Blackcaps as they dart around the Elderberry grabbing berries.

Elderberries are a great tree for gardens as they only grow to around 20ft and in addition to the Blackcaps are loved by Blackbirds too – they seem to gather in numbers in ours as the Autumn goes on, gorging themselves by repeatedly snatching the purple berries. And if you needed more incentive to start cultivating, Elderflower and Elderberry are also a great source of natural ingredients for jams, wines and cordials (perhaps even some gin!) if you feel like sharing the bird’s bounty!

If you haven’t room for brambles or trees, why not try some berry treats or blocks in the garden? These contain a mix of wild berries encased in a suet pellet and will be attract a similar range of species in search not only for the fruit but also to bulk up on high energy fats in preparation for the winter ahead.


Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.