are honeysuckle berries edible for birds

Many of us strive to add bird-friendly plants to our yards and gardens, hoping to attract and feed the birds. Berry-producers rank among the top choices for attracting fall migrants and winter residents.

Unfortunately, all berry producers are not created equal. At issue is the difference between native and nonnative berry-producing plants. Of specific concern is the nonnative amur honeysuckle, sometimes called Asian honeysuckle or bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), native to northern and western China, southeastern Russia and Korea. Amur honeysuckle grows shrub-like, sometimes 30 feet tall, from a multi-stemmed clump. Just to clarify, the equally invasive (but mostly non-berry producing) Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) grows as a vigorous vine.

In 1896, amur honeysuckle was introduced in the U.S. as an ornamental and for wildlife cover and soil erosion control.

Sadly, the good intentions have gone awry. The sturdy bush grows well in almost any conditions, from full sun to full shade and is rampant along fence rows, thickets, woodlands, neglected areas and lawns. Because birds eat the seeds, they spread the shrub widely. Its now considered invasive across about half of the US.

Recently, researchers at Miami University of Ohio studied the berries and their effects on birds. The analysis was startling–and distressing. While native plants produce berries that provide 30-50 percent llipids, the fats birds need for energy, amur honeysuckle berries produce only 3 percent. For birds, then, eating amur honeysuckle berries is like kids eating a diet of nothing but potato chips. The chips taste good, fill kids tummies, cause them to feel satisfied but provide almost no nutrition. If kids continued the limited diet over time, they would fail to thrive. So it is with birds.

Yes, its an attractive plant, so folks initially planted it for its lovely flowers and generous red semi-translucent berries. Kids like to break off the white, pink-based spring flowers, bite off the end, and suck out the sweet nectar. Be aware, however, that the berries are mildly poisonous if eaten.

As an invasive plant, amur honeysuckle also wreaks havoc with the environment. Because it grows almost anywhere and because it leafs out early and holds its leaves late, it shades out and crowds out all other plants. It spreads rapidly, forming dense thickets, not just from birds spreading the seeds, but also from shadow seeding and from roots. A single bush soon balloons into a single-species broad understory, destroying any opportunity for a woodland to reproduce itself.

Given the truly despicable qualities of this bush and the damage it does to birds, we need to eradicate any plant to which we have legal access. A few small bushes can be pulled or cut to the ground. Any remaining roots, however, will likely re-sprout.

To eradicate amur honeysuckle, most authorities recommend a systemic herbicide. Large stems should be cut and immediately treated with a herbicide appropriate for woody stumps. For safe and effective results, read herbicide labels carefully and follow directions exactly. Check with your county extension agent for details, or go online to and check the highly informative cross-references listed.

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A group of woodpeckers that John James Audubon saw in 1843 while traveling up the Missouri River to Yellowstone “which I think will puzzle all the naturalists in the world,” he wrote. The five birds, which were all Northern Flickers, had wildly different colors; some had red feathers on their wings, some had yellow, and some landed in the middle.

In retrospect, it shouldnt have been such a surprise, Hudon says. As a graduate student, he studied Cedar Waxwings sporting orange-tipped tail feathers in place of yellow ones, and later discovered the cause of anomalous red coloring in Baltimore Orioles. Both were attributed to rhodoxanthin from the same introduced honeysuckle bushes. “Id been doing this all along, and it never clicked that it might be [the same cause]” for the Flickers, he says.

Next, the group used Northern Flickers that were captured in the wild at a banding station in Massachusetts. Given that the data indicated that their color change happened in the summer, Hudon was left with only one logical conclusion: honeysuckle berries, which are a popular summertime source of rhodoxanthin. In the 1700s and 1800s, honeysuckles, specifically Tatarian and Morrows honeysuckles and their hybrid, Bells honeysuckle, were brought to the New World from Asia, and feasting birds swiftly spread their seeds throughout the eastern U.S. S. Although it’s possible that since the late 1800s, Yellow-shafted Flickers have added red pigments to their flight feathers, the color shift isn’t always noticeable because berries only make up a small portion of their diet, which consists primarily of insects. Which explains why it took biologists so long to notice.

“I’ve been watching birds all my life, and I’ve never seen a flicker with red feathers on its wings,” says biologist Geoff Hill of Auburn University. Hill recently made the discovery of how birds turn yellow carotenoids into red pigments. For him, the new research provides some intellectual relief. He states, “It just didn’t really make sense that these genes for plumage color would pop up thousands of miles away from the hybrid zone. It was always hard to believe.” “This new research somewhat makes sense of the entire narrative.” “.

Hudon and associates investigated the phenomenon by removing pigments from museum specimens and discovered that they were observing two different kinds of red feathers. Whereas 4-keto-carotenoids, a type of pigment, give Red-shafted Flickers their color in the West, rhodoxanthin, a pigment, gives those abnormal individuals in the East their color. In nature, rhodoxanthin is uncommon and present in a small number of plants. So Hudon figured: The birds must be eating the pigment. It had to be a food source that falls within the Yellow-shafted Flickers’ range and be accessible for consumption when the birds molt, or replace their old feathers with new ones that are pigmented with different pigments.

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In an effort to draw and feed birds, many of us work hard to include bird-friendly plants in our yards and gardens. One of the best options for drawing fall migrants and winter residents is berry-producing areas.

Given this bush’s genuinely reprehensible traits and the harm it causes to birds, we must destroy any plants to which we have legal access. You can chop or pull a few small bushes to the ground. Any remaining roots, however, will likely re-sprout.

Unfortunately, all berry producers are not created equal. What distinguishes native berry-producing plants from nonnative ones is in question. The nonnative amur honeysuckle, also known as Asian honeysuckle or bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), which is indigenous to northern and western China, southeast Russia, and Korea, is particularly concerning. Amur honeysuckle emerges from a multi-stemmed clump as a shrub that can grow up to 30 feet tall. To be clear, the similarly invasive Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) grows as a vigorous vine that primarily does not produce berries.

In 1896, amur honeysuckle was introduced in the U. S. as a decorative, to protect wildlife, and to prevent soil erosion


Do any birds eat honeysuckle berries?

In late summer to early fall Trumpet Honeysuckle will produce small red berries, which are also attractive to birds, including the Cedar Waxwing and American Robin.

What animals eat honeysuckle berries?

So, yes, birds do eat the berries. Lonicera sempervirens is listed as one of the top vines recommended for bird and wildlife habitat by numerous sources including and the Audubon society. In addition to providing nectar for hummers and seeds for birds it is also a host plant for several butterflies.

What bird eats honeysuckle?

Unfortunately, cedar waxwings, and other fruit eaters spread the honeysuckle if I can’t lop off the flowers in time. Bittersweet is another one that’s a challenge to remove and is very popular with fruit eating birds in the colder months.

What can you do with honeysuckle berries?

You can add honeysuckle to salads, eat the berries on their own, or brew honeysuckle tea. There are a variety of different honeysuckle species out there, and not all of them are safe or digestible so double-check that you’ve got an edible variety before eating it.