Fall Feeding Frenzy!

I have my desk facing the windows of our home office so that I can be easily distracted, and sometimes this strategy really pays off. For the last several days, I’ve had a hard time tearing myself away from my windows because of the steady stream of birds that are visiting to eat the ripe Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) and Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) fruit from the trees outside.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) in fruit
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) in fruit

Both Flowering Dogwood and Blackhaw Viburnum have fruit that looks like a berry but is actually a drupe, a type of fruit that has a fleshy outside, and a single seed inside encased in a stony covering. A peach is an example of a drupe. The fleshy outside is perfect for tempting a bird or small mammal to eat it. The seed goes through the animal’s digestive tract and is later ‘dispersed’ complete with fertilizer to help give a new plant a good start. 

The birds went for the Dogwood fruit first. This seems appropriate, since Flowering Dogwood blooms a few days earlier than Blackhaw Viburnum. A flock of American Robins swooped in to eat, with each Dogwood hosting three, four, five, or more birds at once, bobbing in and out of sight as the branches swayed up and down from the activity. 

American Robin with Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) fruit
American Robin with Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) fruit
American Robin in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
American Robin in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
American Robin in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
American Robin in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Several Northern Flickers alighted in the trees, staying a while to join in the feast. 

Northern Flicker in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Northern Flicker in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Northern Flicker gobbling Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) fruit
Northern Flicker gobbling Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) fruit

Other more cautious birds made a swift pass to grab a bite, then flew on to enjoy it in a less congested location. At least three Hermit Thrush stopped by,

Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush

a few Red-bellied Woodpeckers,

Red-bellied Woodpecker in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Red-bellied Woodpecker in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

and even Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers supplemented their diet with fruit in between their usually forays drilling holes in tree bark for the sap that will ooze out, and for the insects that are attracted to the sap.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Outside, I hear other birds and see them ignoring this bounty of fruit, relying on different food sources.  Brown Creepers and White-breast Nuthatches are active in trees nearby, probing the trunks for insects sheltering in the bark grooves. Brown Creepers start from the bottom of a tree trunk and work their way to the top,

Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper

while the Nuthatches move in the opposite direction. 

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows recently returned for the winter. They’re busy probing the bushes and fallen leaves for insects, seeds and fruit. 

While I watched, a Red-tailed Hawk swooped in, scattering the smaller birds, but only briefly deterring them from their foraging. The Red-tail perched nearby for a few minutes, silhouetted against the sky, then left with empty claws.

Red-tailed Hawk, pausing before flying off with empty claws. They are more likely to eat small mammals than birds.
Red-tailed Hawk, pausing before flying off with empty claws. They are more likely to eat small mammals than birds.

The Dogwood fruit is just about all eaten now, but the birds are still working on the Blackhaw Viburnum.

Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) fruit
Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) fruit

Robins are consuming most of the Blackhaw fruit, but the Sapsuckers fly in to supplement their diet, too.  Squirrels are also taking advantage of this feast.

American Robin in Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
American Robin in Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
American Robin investigating Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) fruit
American Robin investigating Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) fruit

The flower buds that are visible at the same time these plants are offering their ripe fruit promise that the show will continue next year. I just hope that when these plants bloom next spring the bees, flies, butterflies and other flower visitors are as successful as they were this year in pollinating the flowers.  

Flower Dogwood (Cornus florida). The bright red fruit is accompanied by the off-white flower buds, promising that the whole cycle of flowers, pollinators, fruit, birds and other animals will happen again next year.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). The bright red fruit is accompanied by taupe-colored flower buds, promising that the whole cycle of flowers, pollinators, fruit, birds and other animals will happen again next year.

So much action, and I live in a townhouse development in central New Jersey!  Who needs to travel hundreds of miles to see the wonders of nature, when they can be present in your own backyard? Just provide the native plants that the animals we live with depend on. We humans depend on these plants and animals, too. 

American Robin eating Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) fruit
American Robin eating Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) fruit

Related Posts

Blackhaw Viburnum – A Subtle Beauty

30 thoughts on “Fall Feeding Frenzy!

  1. Lovely entry! Such fantastic photos (as usual). It makes me want to plant a flowering dogwood and blackhaw Viburnum! I enjoyed seeing the photo of the fruit and the flower bud. And I had never heard of a brown creeper. They are a pretty little bird, of subtle beauty!

  2. Your writing and photos are both exquisite. Thank you for yet another expose’ of our local, natural world and its web of connections.

  3. “Just provide the native plants that the animals we live with depend on.” You are right! In my garden grows Cornus mas and the birds loving it!
    You pictures are wonderful! I love the dreamy colors a lot!

  4. Looks like your office window offers the best kind of distraction. Your pictures are amazing. Our dogwoods are laden with fruit this year. They are situated on our property such that it’s hard to get a good look at who is feasting among the branches. Your pictures give me a much better idea of who might be enjoying a meal. It truly feels like winter is on the horizon now that our temperatures have dropped below freezing at night and our winter birds have made their return.
    I love hearing the sounds of the white throats, nuthatches, and all the various woodpeckers as I walk the dogs in the morning.

  5. I look forward to your posts. Your photographs are delightful and hopefully your readers will learn how important native plants are to our insect and bird populations. You and Doug Tallamy are a couple of my favourite nature writers. Dogwoods, viburnum, and oak trees here attract so many birds to our small 1/3 acre property. Plus we leave as many leaves as possible in the garden beds and under the trees behind our house. Great job sharing the beauty of nature!

  6. Hi Mary Anne,
    By far my favorite issue and I enjoy them all. I would like to know a little more about your approach to getting such perfect pictures without disturbing the subjects. Are they taken through a window, how close? Hand held?

    • Hi Mike! I think all were taken with my 400 mm lens, which allows me to keep a distance. Other than that, there’s a mix here. I was able to use a tripod for all of the Robin pics in this post, the Northern Flicker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker. The photos on Dogwood were from inside, through a window, the shots where they are on Blackhaw Viburnum were outside. The Red-tail was outside, and hand held, also the Hermit Thrush. And I do a little post-processing that includes cropping the image to get what I want in the end photo.

  7. The Flowering Dogwood is hard to keep healthy where I live in NW PA, but my Staghorn Sumac, Washington Hawthorn and Red-twig and Rough Leaved Dogwoods have brought in the Crows, Robins and Starlings into my yard. Cranberry Bush Viburnum has beautiful fruits but seem to be left until the Spring when they get devoured by the Robins.

  8. This is your most exciting post yet and there have been many. So true that we can create and appreciate the natural beauty everywhere; not just at nature centers. Thanks so much for this treasure trove of photos.

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