Wednesday, February 19, 2014


My beautyberry is by no means a beauty right now, but the birds don't give a hoot.

Scraggly and almost naked after our relatively cold winter, it is little more than a "Charlie Brown Christmas tree" of bare branches drooping with round clusters of dark purple berries. And that's fine with the mockingbirds, blue jays, warblers and, most recently, robins, that have been feasting on them.  I have read that many migrating birds that normally eat insects -- such as robins -- will switch to fruits and berries prior to migration to pile on the fat they will need to fuel their epic journeys.
Sssshhh. Don't let the birds hear us call this beautyberry an ugly duckling!

I still have mockingbirds going to great lengths to keep other birds away from the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). Don't know if it's the same bully bird I first noticed last December!

A walk around my yard reveals a surprising number of plants with ripe berries right now. Mother Nature must know that the end of winter is a time of slim pickings for birds and other critters, and she makes sure to stock the larders!

My East Palatka hollies still have a few bright red berries. This is another treat much loved by the mockingbirds, as well as blue jays.

East Palatka Holly 

Berries are still hanging on to the wild coffee too, and I have seen cardinals plucking those recently.

Button, or wild, sage
A newcomer to my yard is the button sage, a native shrubby lantana. This is NOT the lantana you see in the Big Box stores -- some varieties of that (including the popular multi-color Lantana camara) have become quite invasive and are spreading through our wildlands. The native button sage (Lantana involucrata) is widely available in native plant nurseries and easy-peasy to grow in residential landscapes.
I haven't seen any birds consuming these berries yet -- what about any of you that have this hardy shrub?

Finally, there is the firebush (Hamelia patens), the most super-charged butterfly nectar plant I have! The irresistible tubular blooms have now become prolific clusters of juicy ebony berries. I understand people can eat these berries, as syrup or wine, though I haven't tasted them yet. But the mockingbirds and cardinals have, quite enthusiastically!
Firebush, one of my all-time favorites!

Spring is coming, no doubt about it. Any day now I expect to see my deciduous Florida elm come alive with tiny little green leaf buds, and the monarch butterflies reappear, looking for milkweed. But the last remnants of winter are providing a colorful, berry-licious reminder that, even in the season of scarcity, nature gives us what we need to get by.

What berries are your backyard birds devouring?