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Poison Ivy Fruit An Important Spring Resource for Birds

4-9-14 poison ivy fruit 138There are a number of birds that have returned to New England from their southern wintering grounds and are working hard to find enough to sustain themselves until food is more plentiful. Eastern Bluebirds, Hermit Thrushes, Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Phoebes and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers adapt their diets to whatever is available at this time of year, which can mean going from eating insects to consuming fruit. Fruits that persist through the winter are few and far between, but one of the plants that provides the most sustenance to birds in early spring is Poison Ivy. The off-white, berry-like fruits are extremely popular with at least 60 species of birds, including the early returning migrants previously mentioned, as well as Gray Catbirds, Yellow-shafted Flickers, Wild Turkeys, and Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers. The popularity of Poison Ivy fruit with birds explains why this plant is common along fencerows and other areas where birds roost (and pass the seeds). (Caution – irritating urushiol, an oily resin found in the sap of Poison Ivy, is present in the leaves, stems, flowers, roots and fruit of this plant.)

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6 responses

  1. Marilyn

    That looks scary to me! It’s interesting that the birds can eat the berries – and good for the propagation of the plant…

    April 22, 2014 at 11:31 am

  2. jim alt

    Hi Louise–

    Hope your PI is fading–I guess if you were a bird, it would not have caused such a problem! Good to see you and your buddies yesterday, too.

    xo,

    Beth

    April 22, 2014 at 11:59 am

  3. Grady

    Thanks for the heads up, I was considering torching a patch of PI that blocks access to a trail. I had no idea it has berries edible to birds.

    April 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    • Beware of inhaling the smoke of burning poison ivy – it can land you in the hospital!

      April 22, 2014 at 2:33 pm

  4. Kathie Fiveash

    I always think of poison ivy as a great wildlife plant – it not only feeds birds, but protects large areas from intrusion by humans. Also, Grady, watch out for burning the stuff. I once got a terrible case from breathing PI smoke. I had to go to the hospital – not only were my eyes swollen shut, but I had it down my throat, which swelled dangerously. I had to take steroids and stay int he hospital overnight.

    April 22, 2014 at 1:14 pm

  5. Poison ivy is the bane of my existence – but at least some creatures benefit from it!

    April 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm

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