Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Find a Berry-laden Dogwood Tree and Enjoy the Show

When I was growing up we had a large dogwood tree in the backyard that produced a good crop of berries almost every year. I remember just watching that tree for extended time periods and being amazed at the diversity of birds that visited to dine on the berries. Last week I was reminded of how attractive a productive dogwood tree can be when I visited Sheffield Park and Idlewild Road Park in search of migrants.
At Sheffield, a flash of orange caught my eye as a female or immature summer tanager hovered to pluck a berry from a large dogwood. Stopping to see what else might be around, I soon observed two Swainson’s thrushes, several American robins, a gray catbird, brown thrasher, and a rose-breasted grosbeak partaking of that tree. I was reminded that the woods of Idlewild Road Park have a large number of dogwoods and have been very productive in the past. I drove on over and headed down a trail to a nice hardwood forest with dogwood understory.
Immediately I saw a scarlet tanager in the dogwoods; then another, and another. A total of six scarlet tanagers and an additional summer tanager were all there.  A group four Eastern bluebirds flew in, another three Swainson’s thrushes, a wood thrush, some American robins, a red-bellied woodpecker, a Northern flicker, and downy woodpecker; all made for constant in and out action in the dogwood canopies.
Birds are attracted to the berries because of their red color. It is well know that hummingbirds like red, but clearly many bird species have the same affinity. Spicebush, a common lowland shrub, has red berries that are favored by birds, as does magnolia.

There are plenty of other species that love dogwoods too. I have seen gray-cheeked thrushes, veeries, red-eyed vireos, red-headed woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and even pileated woodpeckers on dogwood. Dogwoods are clearly an important fall food source for hungry migrants. If you have a nice dogwood on your property, or know of a nice grove of multiple trees, take some time to watch for activity. You might see some unfamiliar species. 

Scarlet Tanager by John Ennis
All scarlet tanagers in the fall are greenish yellow with contrasting black wings. They look quite different from the brilliant scarlet and black males from the spring.

Summer Tanager by Phil Fowler
Female and juvenile summer tanagers are a more orangey color with less contrast between the wings and rest of the plumage.

Summer Tanager by Phil Fowler
Adult male summer tanagers in fall retain their bright red plumage year round. If you encounter summer tanagers, the majority will be female or juvenile plumaged.


Anonymous said...

I would be so thrilled to see tanagers in my dogwood trees! Right now, the squirrels are the only ones who are interested in the berries!