Sunday, December 13, 2020

Ode to the Sumacs

[Don't tell ME sumacs are "native invasives." Female Eastern Bluebird on winged sumac, Cox Hall Creek WMA, Cape May County, NJ December 13, 2020.]

Birding lately for me means, in part, sumac watching. The sumacs are excellent wildlife food plants, not the most nutritious calorie-wise perhaps (great for micro-nutrients, though) but making up for that with abundant fruit that stays on the plant, off the ground and above the snow, until it is consumed.

[Male and female Eastern Bluebirds on and around sumacs, Cox Hall Creek WMA, Cape May County, NJ December 13, 2020.]

Some biologists call sumacs "native invasives." This is stupid. Unless you've got a better idea for a field in ecological succession, or a hedgerow, leave them alone.

NJ hosts three species of sumacs bearing red fruit clusters (smooth, staghorn and winged), plus poison-sumac, which is in a different genus and bears grayish-white fruits (birds eat these too.) The ones at CHC WMA are winged. Sumacs with red fruits are in the plant genus Rhus, which means "red." Poison-sumac's apt genus name is Toxicodendron. It means "poison tree."

Among the bird species I've seen feeding on sumacs at Cox Hall Creek WMA in recent days are:

Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird (big time!)
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak

22 species, not too shabby. My black oil sunflower seeds don't get that many. Some of these may have been after insects or insect eggs in the fruit clusters, not just the fruit. My dream bird for CHC's sumacs is Pine Grosbeak. . . 

[Above and below, you need this book, if you can find it, published first by Dover in 1951. If you feed them, they will come.]





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