Get Outdoors!: It’s a berry merry season for Vernon songbirds

California Quails like Saskatoons. (Harold Sellers - Contributed)Our birds need winter berries; they’re the perfect size fruit. Resident birds that don’t migrate, but remain here year-round, need food and warmth to survive the harsh winters. Most songbirds (aka passerines or perching birds) are seed and berry eaters.

Native plants and birds have evolved together. A number of shrubs have berries that ripen in the fall and remain on their branches through winter. This refrigerated fruit is an important food source for frugivorous (fruit-eating) birds. The berry’s pulp is typically rich in carbohydrates and vitamins while the seeds inside are concentrated sources of fat and protein. Berries are delicious little packets of fruit pulp that attract birds and other wildlife to disperse their seeds. Many berry seeds survive passing through an animal’s digestive tract and are dropped in a new place with a bit of fertilizer.

Birds tend to be more territorial during winter to protect their food sources. They’ll often band up in protective flocks to stay warm by huddling together and creating “portable” territories with boundaries defined by available food. Once consumed, they move on to reestablish a new territory. Flocking helps individuals survive if a predator has other targets to choose. Domestic cats and hawks are songbirds’ main predators.

Seed and berry eaters such as jays, crossbills, waxwings, finches, sparrows, grosbeaks, chickadees and nuthatches are mostly found on coniferous trees, berry shrubs and in weedy fields. These perching birds are easier to spot on winter’s leafless trees and shrubs. Scan your binoculars up the trunks of trees in sheltered draws to find them. Birds metabolic rate rises during cold weather requiring almost continual eating. They seek sheltered spots to stay warm. Remember, birds often look “chubbier” under their downy, puffed up winter coats.

Large flocks of Bohemian Waxwings provide lots of entertainment in winter gorging on big, frozen Mountain Ash berries. They don’t get drunk as some people think. Sometimes they will pass berries from bird to bird to bond. Grouse, pheasants and quail eat snowberries found throughout the valley wilderness. But don’t you try them — they’re toxic to us. Other humanly toxic berries that birds eat are the fleshy coral-red yew berry and poison ivy berries. Good grief!

There’s a debate over feeding wild birds. In urban areas, where native plants have been removed, feeders may be helpful, but they’re like fast food outlets. It’s better to grow the native plants that they depend on or leave natural areas for birds and other wildlife to forage, nest and rest on. We can help birds by observing their natural behaviours and by rewilding (aka Naturescaping) — landscaping with native trees, shrubs and flowers to enhance our yards for wildlife.

Do you wonder why some people are “birders”? Borrow a pair of binoculars to find out. The variety of colours, markings, shapes, sizes, songs, sounds and characteristics distinguish the various bird species. Getting to recognize them is like getting to know friends from a crowd.

Discover our local winter birds on the North Okanagan Naturalists Club Saturday hikes open to the public — Great places to find winter birds is with the berries at Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary on Coldstream Creek Road, BX Creek trail from Star Road, the lower BX Creek trail behind Walmart from Deleenheer Rd to 48th Avenue, the lower Foothills Grey Canal trail, the Polson Park boardwalk, Marshall Fields, Swan Lake Nature Reserve Park off Old Kamloops Road and the Okanagan Rail Trail.

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

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