Berries and Bird Habitat December 15, 2007
Some of Mansfield's best birders were in the field counting for the Christmas Bird Count today and they let me come along. :) Much of my area could have been called the Counting Crows tour. Mansfield is known for its American Crow winter roost, and they gather here in tremendous numbers. After their early morning dispersal, I spent a little time considering where other birds could be counted. The ancient, gnarly Eastern Red-cedar, juniperus virginiana pictured in the above/left photo (before the winter snow storm shut us down), won today's competition for "best cover plant".
This sizable Red-cedar was about 10 feet away from a feeder, and the birds- waves of 20 to 30 at a time - were taking refuge in this one tree. Most of them were House Sparrows, although White-breasted Nuthatches were "working" the bark on another Red-cedar in the same yard. Evergreens are always a popular spot for birds on a winter day and the most utilized bird feeding stations have sheltering evergreens growing nearby. Not only do these trees provide protection from the bitter elements, they also provide a hiding place from the bitter bite of a Cooper's Hawk or some other bird of prey!
Eastern Red-cedar is a native conifer, although it is not one you'll want to use as a Christmas tree. The needles are notoriously prickly and it gives off a faint odor of cat urine when confined in close quarters. Don't even ask how I know... just trust me on this one.
Not only are their delicate blue berries highly prized by birds, the spirit gin is flavored with juniper berries as well. I have no experience here- but I could probably name references. :) So don't take your botany for granted, some plants have surprising uses!