The birds and the beautyberry – a great match

Not long after moving into my current home, I began looking for plants that would provide color as well as food for the birds and pollinators in my yard. Although I was not aware at that time of the rationale for avoiding exotics and preferring native plants, I did make some good choices, including an American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana L.) which is also called a French mulberry.

This shrub can grow about 5-7 feet high and about that size wide as well. The flowers are tiny and a pale lilac color, circling the stem like a corona.

They eventually turn into green berries that slowly turn in color, starting out in shades of pink and lilac and eventually gaining a beautiful deep purple shade as they ripen.

People can eat the berries, which are apparently very sweet. I haven’t tried them; they do cause stomach cramps for some people if more than a few are eaten. They are a popular food for wildlife, however. White-tailed deer like both the berries and leaves; raccoons and opossums eat them, too. It is the birds that really get the most fruit from my bushes, including Northern cardinals, Eastern towhees and gray catbirds. The birds kindly transported some seeds to a spot next to my back porch, so I now have a large bush there as well.

When the berries began ripening at the end of August, the cardinals began dining on them first. They were quickly followed by house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) who began visiting the shrubs daily. The female house finch stayed on the bush far from the house.

 

 

The male house finches were bolder and fed on the berries right under the kitchen window. It has been a pleasure to watch them.

 

 

 

 

           

   

The Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are a bit more reluctant to feed when they see me looking at them from a few feet away. Even with the window closed, they are shy but I finally got one to sample some berries while I watched.

The leaves of the beautyberry have been used as an insect repellent in folk remedies; laboratory studies have shown that a chemical compound in the plant will stave off mosquitoes.

I haven’t pruned my beautyberries much but it seems that the plant will bear more fruit the next year if this is done. I do think I will transplant some young ones to other parts of the yard this fall, however, as this plant – along with the purple pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra) – is a real wildlife crowd pleaser.

Yay for the bluebirds!

Eastern bluebird Eastern bluebird IMG_9836©Maria de Bruyn resLast year was a disappointment for the bluebirds (Sialia sialias) and me when a cowbird (Molothrus ater) laid her egg in their front-yard nest. The cowbird hatched first and when I looked a few days later, the bluebird eggs were gone. The bluebirds dutifully cared for the foster child but had none of their own.

This year, they returned to the same nesting box and despite there being whole flocks of cowbirds around, they were able to avoid being surrogate parents this year. On 2 May, there were three eggs and by 5 May there were four.

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On 17 May, after mama and papa left the vicinity of the nest, I peeked in and saw the hatched babies, very naked newborns indeed! Mama was often with the babies and papa came to bring food, but mama left from time to time. They both visited the feeders to replenish themselves.

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I set up a canopy chair to observe at what I thought was a good distance but discovered I was too close. The parents would arrive in the tree fronting the nest but if I was too close in their opinion, they would not go to the nest or only after I had been still for quite a long time. It was interesting to see that they were feeding the hatchlings dried meal worms along with other insects that they had caught.
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They also seemed to be feeding the babies fruit – wild raspberries from what I could tell!

Eastern bluebird IMG_4994©Maria de Bruyn resBy 28 May, the babies were much larger and feathered. Mama and papa were kept busy ensuring they were well fed! And house cleaning to remove their brood’s fecal sacs was also a definite necessity!

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Eastern bluebird IMG_5371©Maria de Bruyn resThe parents remained very vigilant – not only keeping an eye on me but also other too curious visitors. On 1 June, a gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) suddenly descended to the nesting box, fluttering its wings furiously to remain suspended in front of the hole while it looked in. It then flew up on top of the box but the bluebird adults chased it away VERY quickly!

 

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By 2 June, the babies were looking ready to fledge. The next day, I had time to watch the box and saw a baby repeatedly looking out (but not really calling much).

 

 

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Sure enough, I saw it leap and swoop up to perch on a nearby branch.

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The next baby soon began peeping out, too, although this one also retreated inside the box now and again. Eventually, this baby swooped out as well, but s/he flew all the way across the street to a neighbor’s yard. When I carefully looked inside the next box, I saw that they were the last two to fledge – the others had gone before.

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Oddly, I haven’t seen the babies at the feeders although I see the parents there.

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Eastern bluebird IMG_8749©Maria de Bruyn resThey or another bluebird couple were checking out a nest box in the backyard. They didn’t use this one (Carolina wrens have moved in with a nest there in the last few days) but they have constructed a new nest in another backyard box today. So I hope to witness another fledging in a few weeks! Yay for the bluebirds!