Winter berries are a vital source of food for birds

I haven’t seen any cedar waxwings at the hollies yet. But I am confident that, sooner or later during the next few weeks, hungry flocks of waxwings will descend on the shrubs and gobble up great quantities of the berries.

This winter, I have a much greater appreciation of our fruit-producing plants and the birds that feed on them. That’s because of a remarkable new booklet called “The Ecology of Fruit-Eating Birds in Georgia,” published by the nonprofit Georgia Ornithological Society. It was written by two Georgia bird experts, James Ferrari, a biology professor at Wesleyan College in Macon, and Jerry Payne, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist who lives in Musella.

The 88-page booklet is loaded with details about the types of wild fruit each bird eats and the plants that attract the greatest variety of birds in Georgia. The information is based on mounds of data from bird lore, scientific studies and the authors’ personal observations.

“For years I’ve taken careful field notes about what I see birds eating,” said Payne, who is also one of Georgia’s leading butterfly experts.

For wildlife officials, the booklet will be of immense help in managing landscapes for bird habitat and conservation. For us homeowners, the publication will be an excellent guide for what we can plant to attract birds to our yards, particularly in fall and winter when the feathered creatures are in greatest need of nourishment.

“In Georgia‚ fruits are a vital resource for many bird species during their migration in autumn as well as for those that over-winter,” write Ferrari and Payne. (Winter also is prime tree and shrub planting time in Georgia in case you’re thinking of making your yard more attractive to wildlife.)

The booklet can be ordered on the Georgia Ornithological Society’s Web site at www.gos.org.

Some interesting facts from the booklet include:

● More than 70 species of Georgia birds consume fruits of native or naturalized plants in the state.

● Species with the broadest fruit diets include the American robin (which eats the fruits of 45 plants), Northern mockingbird (43), cedar waxwing (32), Northern cardinal (32), Eastern bluebird (32) and brown thrasher (28).

● Native plants whose fruits attract the greatest variety of birds include flowering dogwood, poison ivy, red mulberry, blackgum, serviceberry, black cherry, blackberry and sugarberry.

In the sky: The moon will be first quarter tonight — in the south at sunset and setting about midnight, said David Dundee, astronomer with Tellus Northwest Georgia Science Museum. Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise. Mars rises out of the east just after sunset and will appear near the moon Friday night.

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