Finch Food November 23, 2007
There has been a stir again in the birding community. Folks have been seeing a Pine Grosbeak, Pinicola enucleator (or two) near the Oak Openings in Toledo. There was quite a crowd gathered today to view this unusual irruptive visitor from Canada's forest. Fortunately, the bird did not disappoint. Several brief sightings were made, photos taken, and posted on Toledo's Rare Bird alert. The photos I took were not quite up to the demanding quality standards of this blog :)
Of course, while waiting for the grosbeak to show, I entertained myself with the botany. The woodlot hosting this bird is a paradise of finch food with Box Elder samaras and an incredible amount of invasive Amur Honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii. These berries provide a plentiful winter time food, unfortunately they are high in sugar content, but not the fats birds need for winter. While this appears to be a great bird habitat, honeysuckle is considered a noxious invasive. Not only does it reproduce exponentially, it also chokes out the more desirable native under-story species.
Many invasive species leaf out before our native plants, and they retain their leaves longer in the fall. This gives them a competitive edge over their neighbors. The plants I did not see at this wooded lot were the telling tale; there were no dogwoods, viburnums, hawthorns or other "heavy" hitters from the fruiting shrub species. These fruits supply the needed fats for some wintering birds. While Pepsi is mighty tasty, its high sugar content would not be a great replacement for the nutritional milk we put in baby's bottles. An over simplification, to be sure, but you get the picture.
Invasive species should be a concern for gardeners and birders alike. Once again, plant wisely, use native plants for habitat, and remove and destroy invasive plants hiding out in your yard. In the long run, it would even be better for the birds. :)