Thursday 28 October 2021

Berries: Wildlife's Winter Pantry


Nature provides year-round food for many birds and animals. While insects may be plentiful in spring, it’s persistent berries that are an important food source in winter. Unlike raspberries or blueberries, persistent berries ripen later in the year and remain on the bushes and trees even after the leaves have fallen. The berries on native trees and plants such as buffaloberry and red osier dogwood are high in fat and carbohydrates, offering birds plentiful energy for their migratory journey or to weather the cold. 

Bunchberry is a low-lying plant found in the cool coniferous forests of Canada’s northern and mountainous regions. The red berries, which ripen in late summer, are a tasty snack for bears, hares, and songbirds. They contain two hard, crunchy seeds, hence the plant’s name of kawiscowimin in Cree, which can be translated as “gravel inside.” It’s also known as dwarf dogwood with similar leaves and flowers to the Pacific dogwood tree.

Common Juniper 
Common juniper is a spreading shrub that often forms a low-lying mat but can grow to 3-4 ft tall. What appear to be blue berries are actually cones with very tightly packed miniature scales. The fleshy covering on the cones is popular with robins, black-capped chickadees, cedar and Bohemian waxwings. American robins often devour large quantities in spring and fall.
Bohemian Waxwing eating juniper berries

Mountain Ash 
A highlight of a Prairie winter’s day is when a flock of cedar waxwings swoops in to feast on mountain ash berries. Despite its name, mountain ash belongs to the rose family and its closest relatives are apples and hawthorns. Humans find the berries bitter and unpleasant, but they are very high in vitamin C and birds love them. 

Wild apple and crabapple trees are also popular with wildlife – from deer and bears to birds and squirrels.

Oregon Grape 
Oregon grape can be found in mountainous areas of the Pacific Northwest from British Columbia and eastern Alberta to northern California. The dark blue berries grow in clusters and bear some resemblance to grapes. Wildlife benefit from Oregon grape in all seasons of the year as the bright yellow flowers attract pollinators, the fruit is enjoyed by robins and waxwings as well as some mammals, and some butterfly and moth species rely on Oregon grape plants to host their larvae.

Red Osier Dogwood 
Red osier dogwood is a many-branched shrub about 6 ft tall. Its red stems and branches are particularly noticeable in winter. The white, waxy berries are high in fat and popular with migrating birds, bears, and grouse. The stems and winter buds provide valuable forage for deer, moose, and snowshoe hare, and the plants often suffer from overbrowsing. 

Silver Buffaloberry 
Silver buffaloberry (shepherdia argentea) is a thorny shrub often found growing along rivers and streams, especially on the northern Great Plains. It's slow to lose its leaves in autumn. The clusters of red berries ripen in late summer and are a favorite food of many songbirds and sharp-tailed grouse. 

Snowberry, a native shrub found across western Canada, has white, waxy berries that persist into winter. The berries are toxic to humans as they contain saponin, a foaming compound used to make soap. They are, however, appreciated by over-wintering birds such as robins and thrushes, as well as chipmunks.

Springtime Follies 
As the weather warms up in the spring, overwintered berries can ferment and birds, particularly cedar waxwings and robins, that eat a lot of fruit can become intoxicated.
Bohemian Waxwings

See Also 

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