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Moore: Berry-eaters abound this winter

A male American robin. (Courtesy)

A male American robin. (Courtesy)

Last week’s column discussed the lack of seed-eating birds at backyard bird feeders. What I didn’t mention was the abundance of berry-eating bird species in the Prescott area this winter.

I personally cannot recall a year where there have been so many American robins in my yard. In addition to the robins, I have had flocks of cedar waxwings and western bluebirds as well — all examples of berry-eating bird species.

What part of town you live in and whether you have a lot of berry-producing trees and shrubs, are what will ultimately impact whether you will see these species in your yard or not. Other berry-eating bird species to be on the lookout for this time of year are hermit thrushes and Townsend’s solitaire.

One of the best ways to attract non-seed-eating birds to your yard is to provide a source of water. In my bird feeding area, I have a bird bath that the robins are thoroughly enjoying. They are coming and going all day, visiting the many berry-laden trees in our neighborhood, and then coming back to our yard to get a drink.

An interesting thing about berry-eating birds is how unreliable they are from one season to another. Just because you have a lot of robins or waxwings this year does not mean you will see a lot next winter. The distribution of berry-eating birds is unpredictable from one year to the next.

Berry-eating birds —such as cedar waxwings —tend to be highly nomadic as they fly around in search of berries. When they find an abundant food source, they tend to stay in the same area until they have consumed all of the berries. Then, when the berries are gone, the birds leave to go search for another food source.

The behavior of berry-eating birds is very different from that of seed-eating birds. If you have seed feeders in your yard, what do you do when the feeder runs out of seed? You fill it. Therefore, the birds that are frequenting your yard don’t have to leave to go find another food source. They will likely spend the winter in your yard, taking advantage of the food you provide for them.

Once berry-producing trees and shrubs have been stripped of their fruit, they won’t get a new batch of berries the next day like your seed feeders getting refilled with a fresh batch of seed. The next batch of berries won’t be available for approximately another year. The plants won’t blossom until spring, and the fruit will not be available until the following winter.

The abundance of berry-eating birds in the Prescott area this winter illustrates the need to provide multiple food sources for wild birds. Providing seed is great for attracting a variety of seed-eating birds, but there are a lot of non seed-eating birds such as robins, waxwings and thrushes that will never come to your seed feeders.

One reason we have so many berry-eating bird varieties in town is because there are thousands of non-native trees and shrubs that produce berries, such as ornamental Bradford pear trees, purple plum, pyracantha and Oregon grape. In addition to non-native berry-producing plants you can plant native plants such as manzanita and Wright’s silk tassel.

Landscaping to attract birds to your yard will increase the quantity and variety of birds you can attract to your yard. In addition to seed and berries, another way you can attract a wider variety of birds to your yard is to provide suet. Suet will bring a whole other segment of wild birds to your yard — insect eaters!

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona – Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.

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