For the birds

Nandina berries peaking out from the snowIn late February, abundant berries remain on nandinas (Nandina domestica, above) and many of the hollies (Ilex spp.) in the garden. The uneaten berries are typical, I suppose evidence that these are unappetizing to all but the hungriest birds. Even in years when I’ve been discouraged from stocking the bird feeder due to the growing population of squirrels, most berries ripened and fell to the ground. Berries of the native Winterberry (Ilex verticillata, below) and American holly (Ilex opaca) are plucked early and rarely persist into the new year, but red berries that cloak the branches of other evergreen hollies remain until late winter, when birds nibble a few of the over ripened fruits.Sparkleberry holly in early December

The clusters of red berries of the native dogwood (Cornus florida, below) are quickly consumed as they ripen in late autumn, and the ripened fruit of the Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is often eaten within days of ripening. While hollies bear consistent crops, the number of berries on dogwoods varies year to year.Dogwood berries

The small, grape-like fruits of mahonias are favorites of the local birds, though the early winter flowering ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’) rarely sets fruit until early spring. After the flowers of the spring blooming leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei, below) fade, the berries are often abundant, but rarely persist for the gardener to enjoy.Fruit on leatherleaf mahonia in late April

Fortunately, one berry cherished by birds has  been eradicated from the garden. For years, an Oriental bittersweet vine (Celastrus orbiculatus, below) thrived in the tangled thicket that borders the garden, but then the invasive vine leaped from a weedy mulberry to the top of a yellow flowered magnolia (Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’). With some difficulty the vine was cut out, and though proximity to other shrubs prevented removal of its roots, suckering growth has been fairly easily controlled. I’ve been more conscientious in stocking the feeder, so the birds don’t seem to mind.Oriental bittersweet

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3 thoughts on “For the birds

  1. I struggled with squirrels pillaging my bird feeders for years, until I got some well designed feeders that the squirrels absolutely cannot access (Squirrel Buster Classic), and I’ve had no problem since.

    This year, for the first time, I paid attention to when my holly berries and winterberries got eaten. Turns out it was about 10 days ago – in mid-February. The consumers turned out to be surprisingly large flocks of robins! I’ve never before seen so many, given this this is mid-winter and there is so much snow on the ground. I guess they were REALLY hungry. But I’m guessing that the berries were unpalatable before then, and that hard freezes chemically changed them, since they physically changed in appearance too.

    Don in Nashua, NH

    • This is an instance where I have too much garden to pay close attention. I notice that berries of Winterberry hollies are gone when I go out to look and they’re not there. Then, I backtrack to figure that they were eaten sometime since the last time I checked. Since most of the garden is out of sight of the kitchen windows I don’t think that I’ve ever actually seen a bird eating a holly berry. I think I saw a bird pluck a mahonia fruit, once, but most disappear quickly and I assume that birds are the reason.

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