BirdWatching Column: Fruiting Plants

Published on Oct. 15, 2012 by BirdWatching

[PULL-QUOTE] “As the fruits ripen each summer, my eyes start feasting and my camera gets a workout.”


[HED] Fruiting plants

[DECK] Rely on native trees and shrubs to attract a host of birds with a minimum of effort

[646/513 WORDS - AB0612: 511 WORDS] I took a walk in mid-June a couple years ago and came upon a Cedar Waxwing feeding upon berries in a pretty little serviceberry tree. The fruit must have been tasty, because the bird remained for close to an hour, devouring berry after berry.

The photos I took and my memories of that wonderful hour kept me thinking about serviceberries (also called June berries). Last summer I finally got around to buying a pair of shrubs for my Minnesota yard. I¹m not a gardener, so I like plants that require a minimum of effort. I dug two holes, stuck the shrubs in the ground, filled in around their root balls, and crossed my fingers. They weren¹t supposed to bloom this year but produced a few blossoms that developed into berries. I don¹t expect anything major for two or three more years. That¹s the thing about gardening with native trees and shrubs – we have to be patient.

Meanwhile, back in the late 1980s, my husband planted two cherry trees. They were a dwarf variety, but both grew taller than expected. He gets plenty of cherries for pies and other treats by just reaching up; everything beyond his reach he leaves for the birds.

The tops of the trees are eye-level from my second-story office window. As the fruits ripen each summer, my eyes start feasting and my camera gets a workout. A host of birds, from robins and orioles to Scarlet Tanagers and several warblers, visits from dawn until sunset. Some feed on the fruits, but chickadees, most of the warblers, and an occasional Least Flycatcher go after the insects lured in by the tree. Once in a while, I¹ll spot a Ruby-throated Hummingbird darting its tongue into a partly opened cherry, but I¹m not sure whether it¹s sipping juice or picking at tiny insects – probably both.

One of the delights of moving into our house was discovering a lovely stand of raspberries in the backyard. Even when we¹d go out every morning and fill up a bowl, there was enough to share with Purple Finches, catbirds, and other birds. After five or six years, the bed started dying out. We felt sad about losing it but discovered new raspberries coming up in a different part of the yard, right below the ash tree where our Purple Finches often sat. Sharing our fruit turned out to be self-serving, because the finches planted the new stand via the seeds in their droppings! We¹re now enjoying the fourth bird-planted raspberry stand in our yard. In 31 years, we¹ve never had a year without raspberries, yet we’ve never planted or maintained them.

Unfortunately, birds also spread more problematic plants – invasive exotics such as buckthorn. Twice a year, my husband chops them out wherever we notice them. We haven¹t had fruiting buckthorn since we learned about it over 20 years ago, but birds eat it elsewhere and finish digesting it here. Controlling that takes work, but the pleasure our birds bring, and the fresh raspberries they supply, more than make up for a few inconveniences.

Laura Erickson writes and produces the radio segment and podcast “For the Birds.” She is author of Twelve Owls, The Bird Watching Answer Book, and 101 Ways to Help Birds. She was a licensed bird rehabilitator for many years. You can find more of her writing about backyard birds on our blog.

Final question, Laura…

Did you intend for the following paragraph to appear as a sidebar? I’m thinking of printing it in a colored box in “Birding Briefs” along with a reference to your column and “Turn to page TK for more.”

[BOX] Planting locally native fruiting trees and shrubs can provide food over a longer window of time than allowing invasive exotics to crowd out local plants. Most states and counties, and many cities and towns, provide excellent guides for selecting native fruiting plants.