December Bounty

What will birds and other animals do for food, now that we’re entering the long winter months?

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

They’ll still be foraging for protein in the form of insects, but the supply will be much less plentiful than in the warmer months when many more insects are active. Ground feeders will forage among the fallen leaves, while others will investigate branches and probe bark crevices of trees and shrubs for a meal.

Gray Squirrel

Gray Squirrel

Ripe fruit will also help sustain resident winter animals. On a recent visit to Spring Lake at the Abbott Marshlands, from a single spot where the land meets the marsh, we found a bounty of food, including the hips of Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris),

Hips of Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris). Rose hips are rich in vitamin C. The hips of some rose species are used in teas.

Hips of Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris). Rose hips are rich in vitamin C. The hips of some rose species are used in teas.

Hips of Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris).

Hips of Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris).

open legumes of Groundnut (Apios americana), a pea family member,

Open legumes of Groundnut (Apios americana)

Open legumes of Groundnut (Apios americana)

ripe drupes of Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum),

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) fruit

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) fruit

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) fruit, called drupes

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) fruit, called drupes

the berry-like drupes of Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata),

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) fruit

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) fruit

and a cascade of Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) fruit capsules.

Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) fruit capsules

Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) fruit capsules

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) fluttered in the breeze a bit further down the trail.

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

A mixed flock of migrating Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds paused in the bare branches of trees overlooking the feast, to rest and refuel before continuing their journey.

Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds

Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

 

Related Posts

A Winter Garden Can be a Wildlife Habitat

Late Winter Bird Food

Wild Yam

Resources

Rhoads, Ann Fowler; Block, Timothy A. The Plants of Pennsylvania.  2007

 

 

9 thoughts on “December Bounty

  1. Yesterday I saw a bush with fuschia-colored berries and roundish leaves on the right side of the drive up to the Bowman’s visitor’s center. It was just after the open gate with the deer grate. The berries were REALLY bright and plentiful. Do you know what they might be?

  2. The seedheads on my Echinacea are really valuable to Goldfinches that seem to lose their color and hang out with the sparrows in the winter. Many clusters of the seeds will also feed the finches that return in Spring.

    Persistent fruits on my Cranberry Bush Viburnum are really pretty but they don’t get eaten until the Spring.

    My apple tree still has fruits on the ground and every day I see rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and even chipmunks on warm days eating them. It is funny to see a small red squirrel carrying a large apple in its teeth up a tree and then hold it in its front paws and chew on it like a person would.

    • In my yard, Goldfinches, Chickadees and even Juncos forage on the seed heads of plants, including Purple Giant Hyssop and Elephant’s Foot. The Goldfinches are in their winter plumage, much less showy than their breeding plumage. If you watch, you’ll see birds foraging for insects on branches and bark, and in the fallen leaves, where many insects spend the winter.

      The nutrient composition of Cranberrybush Viburnum makes it less desirable in the fall and early winter, more desirable in late winter. This works out for the birds, since they’ll have a food crop that is still available late in the season. It works out for Cranberrybush, because it has less competition for the birds’ attention, so it increases the chance of seed dispersal. A win-win!

      It is so much fun to watch the animals we share our space with. Yesterday a gray squirrel left us a ‘gift’ of a black walnut, by stashing it in the corner next to our front door!

  3. How I love your posts! Thank you. I always share them on the Facebook page for the land trust I work for, French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust.

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