Birds and Berries

My budding hobby of birding has lead to a number of other avenues of learning about the natural world around me. As I shared in an earlier post or two, we have left our property to “go natural” except for the large fields that we have cut twice a year for hay. It doesn’t produce much profit, but it keeps the pastures from becoming too scrubby. Still, the hedgerows and a few other areas which the “Hay Guy” doesn’t find valuable, are left to an even more “natural state.” That allows many sorts of plants to grow and flourish.

I’m not much of a botanist. But, on occasion, I find a plant significant or interesting enough that I try to identify it. It was photos of a couple of juvenile Northern Mockingbirds that I took this afternoon which spurred me to research a plant that has been here for as long as we have lived on this land. In the first couple of years of our residence here, I had a flock of free-range chickens. I enjoyed them, but after a while they began taking their dust baths right up next to the house. It changed the slope of the soil, and well, Robert believes it is what caused our basement to flood. So, we found a new home for the flock and my egg purchase turned back to the grocery store.

What I remember quite vividly about the chickens, was that they were highly attracted to a weed plant that grew here and there – often capitalizing on the safety of a fence line. When the plant produced berries at then end of summer, the chickens would fly up to grab them as a snack. Today, I watched a young Mockingbird nabbing the berries of that same plant. It prompted me to identify the purple stemmed bush before I posted these photos.

I wasn’t sure if this unidentified “weed” was an invasive species or native. I was happy to discover it’s native and makes a living across most of the United States. It is called pokeweed (Phytolacca americana.) Much like my former chickens, this Mockingbird seemed quite attracted to the berries, which appear green in these photos, but they ripen over time to a deep purple, and eventually a deep brown color.

If you are wondering why the background has vertical stripes, that’s actually the corrugated metal barn that is about 30 feet behind where this pokeweed was standing in a field of shorter grasses. The metal is gray, so I’m not sure what sort of lighting was going on to produce green shadows, but it is actually an interesting effect.

Pokeweed is a large plant. I read that it can grow to be up to seven feet tall. But, it dies back completely in winter, leaving behind a skeleton of dried branches, which I suspect make for good perches for the birds that stick around in winter. Here’s a photo of the pokeweed plant with the Mockingbird on the left, to provide a size reference.

There were several Mockingbirds in this area, today. Here are a few more photos that are worth sharing. This is a young bird. I could see the yellow tint around at the corners of its beak in a few images. It’s amazing how well camouflaged he in on the dead branches of this tree.

2 Comments on “Birds and Berries

  1. Thank you for this interesting item! What do you know about any relationship between birds and elderberries? We picked a large quantity this year because it seems they are very abundant! The juice makes a great jelly and that juice is reputed to be very good for the immune system. I did not notice any birds dive bombing for elderberries or that they were bothered by our picking them. They are natural aren’t they?

    • Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I can’t say I know much about birds and elderberries….I just looked up Elderberry (genus Sambucus) and read that, in their raw state they are toxic. Perhaps, that is why you didn’t see birds eating them. I do have a childhood memory of my father (who is of Scandinavian descent) talking about Swedish pancakes with elderberry syrup! Glad to know it was cooked!

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