do birds eat crepe myrtle berries

The plump, pretty blossoms of the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) in whites, reds, oranges, pinks and purples hang languorously on the branch tips like Southern belles waiting to be asked to dance. The flowers are sufficient incentive for gardeners to grow this small tree in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 though 9, but they are not the only associated blessing. A garden with a crepe myrtle also enjoys bird song. Birds flock to crepe myrtle trees to eat the ripe berries and also to feast on insect pests.

Gardeners find crepe myrtle cultivars to fit any sunny corner. The plants range from shrubs as short as 18 inches high to small trees; the tallest might grow to 40 feet, but 25 feet or under is the norm. In most specimens, the huge, showy flower clusters arrive in summer. The small brown or black seed berries ripen in autumn and can hang on the tree for several months. They are beloved by birds including catbirds and cardinals.

Crepe myrtle attract aphids. While aphids attack most plants, they favor crepe myrtle to such a degree that nurseries plant the shrubs to attract aphids from other plants. The crepe myrtle aphids (Tinocallis kahawaluokalani Kirkaldy) flock to the shrubs from spring through fall, feeding on the undersides of leaves by sucking plant sap with their needlelike mouthparts. Their saliva causes yellow spots on the leaves and stunts new growth. The sugary substance aphids secrete is termed honeydew, and it attracts ants, wasps and flies. To encourage birds to your tree, do not control aphids with anything stronger than water.

While your neighbors appreciate the gorgeous flower clusters your crepe myrtle offers, local birds flock to the tree first and foremost for the ever-ready supply of aphids. Every gardener knows that lady bugs are aphid predators, but many birds also appreciate the yellow-green insects. Finches, mockingbirds and woodpeckers are regular aphid customers. Chickadees, titmice and warblers also include aphids in their diets.

Q: How long ago were crape myrtles introduced to the U.S.?

Graves: Between 1787 and 1796, rape myrtles were brought to Charleston, South Carolina. It is one of the plants that George Washington brought to Mount Vernon. Since the 19th century, they have been widely planted and allowed to naturally occur throughout the Gulf Coast states. A new plant provided an abundant new source of seeds, and some bird species quickly adapted to this new winter forage. They can certainly take advantage of the seeds of many other plants in the winter, but they are particularly skilled at using crape myrtle. Thus, it has taken our indigenous birds over a century to find this unusual food and learn how to remove the winged seeds from the pods. The wind distributes crepe myrtle seeds, which are enclosed in a tiny winged casing that birds must split open to consume.

Q: Why is this shift to a new food significant?

Graves: Eastern Asia, namely China and Korea, is the home of craze myrtles (Lagerstroemia). Although there are no native species of crape myrtle in North America, the southeastern region of the country has seen the introduction of Lagerstroemia, which has been planted in astonishing quantities. People adore them for their vibrant blooms, gorgeous bark, resistance to cold and drought, and adaptability to a variety of soil types. In South Carolina, a rape myrtle fruit with leaves (Martin LaBar photo)

When a large number of native birds consume a non-native plant that has been introduced, ecologists and ornithologists should pay attention. In conservation biology, the impact of invasive plant species on native plant and animal communities in North America and worldwide is a major concern. Nurseries across the US sell millions of crape myrtle trees annually. Many U. S. States also heavily plant them alongside other rights of ways and interstate highways. Additionally, they are extensively utilized in town landscaping throughout the Southeast. Crape myrtles are commonplace in places like Savannah, Georgia; Norfolk, Virginia; and Charleston, South Carolina. A 20-foot-tall crape myrtle tree can yield a few pounds of seed annually. They yield brown, ovoid capsules with six locules, or cavities, in which there are four seeds with wings. There are approximately 570,000 individual seeds in 1 kilogram [2. 3 pounds] of crape myrtle seed. Considering that the southeastern United States is home to tens of millions of crape myrtle trees, that’s a lot of seeds. S. from Virginia to Texas. Female cardinal in a crape myrtle tree in winter. (Photo by Tony Alter).

Q: What prompted you to pursue this research? Graves: A number of years ago, I observed that specific bird species were consuming seeds from a big crape myrtle tree in front of my Northern Virginia home. Every year, tens of thousands of seedpods adorn this 20-foot tall structure. I did some background research, and even though these plants have been domesticated for a considerable amount of time, S. I was unable to locate any information regarding the use of crape myrtle seed by birds in North America in the scientific literature. I started keeping an eye on the variety of birds I observed gathering seeds from the crape myrtle in my yard over the course of several winters. When I first started, I had no idea where it would go, but it was incredibly intriguing. Once the capsules have dried and the seeds have ripened, some birds begin to visit crape myrtle by late November. There aren’t many seeds left by late February because they are devoured so quickly. In order to give the birds an alternative food source during this time, I set up thistle-seed and sunflower seed feeders in my yard a little more than 40 feet away. However, some species were so drawn to the crape myrtle seeds that they made the extra effort to get them.

A pink crepe myrtle tree in Georgia.

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Crape myrtle seeds with wings are seen on the left, and an American goldfinch eating the seeds is seen on the right. ( courtesy Gary Graves).

Every year, ornamental crape myrtle trees in the central and southern United States S. Arrange a stunning display of vivid purple, lavender, pink, red, and white flowers. But the real feast really starts in the chilly winter months. From early December through late February, a variety of birds frequent the trees, including cardinals, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, goldfinches, and white-throated sparrows, which feed on the copious seed crop that crape myrtles produce. It’s a relatively new adaptation that signifies a substantial change in the diet of many native U S. bird species to a non-native plant. A brief paper on this topic was recently published in the scientific journal Southeastern Naturalist by Gary Graves, an ornithologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.


What birds eat crepe myrtle berries?

Goldfinches, dark-eyed juncos, house finches, cardinals, and house and white-throated sparrows visit the trees continually from early December through late February to devour the abundant seed crop that crape myrtles provide.

Do hummingbirds eat crepe myrtles?

You’ll find all sorts of visitors to your crepe myrtle tree. Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies are attracted to the nectar. Goldfinches, cardinals, and sparrows eat the seeds in early winter.

Do squirrels eat crepe myrtle berries?

Grumpy Gardener Answer: Squirrels go nuts for that stuff. And it’s not funny. but actually, there’s some good news to this. Even if they eat all of the seed pods off your crepe myrtle, it won’t hurt your tree, and it won’t affect flowering the next year.

Are crepe myrtles good for wildlife?

The Crape Myrtles seemed to be offering up a feast for these birds, which made me feel a little better about not having planted Toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) in their stead, a common large shrub in our chaparral communities, their red berries known to offer numerous bird species a valuable food source.