The 5 Best Large Trees for Wildlife (and a Bonus!)

The 5 best trees for wildlife (and a bonus!)

The 5 best trees for wildlife (and a bonus!)

Every yard needs a large tree, the largest they can properly fit.

Nothing is more beautiful than the right tree shading a house. But which is the right? For the wildlife gardener, it is one that brings in the critters. Some trees are just better for wildlife, and here are my top picks:



5. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Hackberries are often found along old fence lines, and for good reason – the birds planted them. They aren’t picky. if it’s wet, they will grow. If it’s dry, they will grow. The berries are a treat for 25 different songbirds, game birds, squirrels, gray fox and the occasional ring-tailed cat (if you live down south).

When it comes to being the proper tree in the proper place, don’t plant this too near your house – it’s is not a fan of wind and ice. But it will do wonderfully in the back of your property.

Hackberry Quick Facts

  • 60 feet tall, 40 feet wide
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Zones 3-9
  • Dry to wet soil
  • Shallow roots
  • Can have wind or ice damage

4. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple


Every yard needs a sugar maple. They can live for 400 years and grow about a foot a year. These trees blaze in autumn! Not only do they put on a show, but they are loved by wildlife.

Sugar maples host the Cercropia Silkmoth and the Rosy Maple Moth. The seeds are a treat for squirrels (and my chickens). the early spring flowers attract native bees and honey bees. This maple attracts so many insects that songbirds seek it out for a snack. If you want to see warblers, tanagers and woodpeckers, this is the tree for you. It is also a favorite nest spot for the redstart, grosbeak, baltimore oriole and cardinal.

Maples do have shallow roots, so a lush lawn under your tree won’t be happening. It isn’t a fan of salt either, so don’t plant this tree near a driveway.

Sugar Maple Quick Facts

  • 100 feet tall, 80 feet wide
  • Full sun to shade
  • Zones 3-8
  • Well drained moist soil
  • Shallow roots
  • Keep away from salted roads

3. Tulip Poplar (Linrioodendron tulipifera)

Tulip Tree

Tulip Tree

I love the Tuliptree I planted 4 of them. It is beautiful! It grows as a pyramid, has yellow and orange flowers and turns a brilliant yellow in fall. But the best thing of all – it is a hummingbird magnet!

This tree is a pioneer species, so it is tough and a fast grower. It brings in squirrels, songbirds and is the larval host to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Tuliptree Silkmoth.

Plant this tree in moist, but not wet soil. If it gets too dry it will drop leaves in the summer, but will spring back the next year. Clay is fine but make sure it isn’t compacted. It will drop some branches and its shallow roots are similar to a maple.

If you ever travel to the Smoky Mountains, be sure to check out the monster of a tuliptree next to the main visitor center. It is remarkable!

Tulip Poplar Quick Facts

  • 150 feet tall, 50 feet wide
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Zones 4- 9
  • Well drained moist soil
  • Shallow roots
  • Keep away from compacted soil

2. Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Burr Oak Acorn

Burr Oak Acorn


The Burr Oak is a giant of a tree. It  likes to reach and tends to be wider than tall. It grows everywhere it seems, from Canada to Texas and as far west as Montana. This tree can shoot up 1-2 feet a year and live over a millennium.

The main feature of the Burr Oak is its golf ball sized acorns. They are one of the best tasting acorns to wildlife and are eaten by squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, mice, deer, wood ducks, mallards, nuthatch, woodpeckers and blue jays.

Beyond acorns, this tree is a songbird’s paradise. It is an excellent nesting tree, shelters birds in storms and has a buffet of insects for their bellies. It hosts many butterfly species and is a favorite nesting tree of the Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, and Screech Owl.

This tree is strong and shakes off storms and ice with ease. It also has a deep taproot, sparing your driveway and foundation. It also doesn’t mind drought, floods, clay, compacted soil or city pollution.

Burr Oak Quick Facts

  • 60 feet tall, 80 feet wide
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Zone 3-8
  • Variety of soil types
  • Deep tap root
  • Gets big, so be ready

1. Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Wild Black Cherry

Wild Black Cherry

My #1 choice for a wildlife tree is the Black Cherry – if you can plant only one tree, this is the one. Long lived and a fast grower, it is able to put on 2 feet a year for fast shade.

All parts of the cherry are poisonous to humans, except the fruits – but this doesn’t stop wildlife. It hosts at least 10 butterfly and moth species (including the Viceroy and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail). It also attracts numerous beetles and sawflies, which are favorites for songbirds.

The flowers cover the tree in a white cloud, feeding honeybees, native bees and ants. The fruit that follows feeds 33 different birds and many mammals. Don’t be surprised if you see a fox or wild turkey sampling the fruit. In the fall it turns a deep yellow which is not to be missed.

The only downfall for this tree is it is picky where it grows. It can’t be too shady, or too wet, or too close to the house. It is a solid tree, not bothered by wind or ice.

Black Cherry Quick Facts

  • 80 feet tall, 50 feet wide
  • Full sun
  • Zone 3-9
  • Well drained, moist soil
  • Long lived
  • No compacted soil

BONUS: Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)


I promised you a bonus tree and here it is. The Black Gum, or Tupelo is the perfect tree for that soggy spot. It is fine in standing water for a short time, and doesn’t mind clay!

One of the smallest trees of my picks, it only reaches 40 feet. It is also the slowest growing. But this tree shines come autumn. Not much can beat a Tupelo in its full blazing red fall color.

The Tupelo is known as a honey tree, attracting bees in droves when blooming. The berries set in fall and are a favorite of many birds and mammals.

Black Gum Quick Facts

  • 40 feet tall, 20 feet wide
  • Full sun to light shade
  • Zone 3-9
  • Wet to moist soil
  • Needs a male and female tree to set fruit
  • Deep taproot makes transplanting difficult


Now that you have some ideas – get out there and start planting. What are some of your favorite large trees? Tell me in the comments!

Paige Nugent

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