do birds eat mountain ash berries

I have spent a few interesting hours over the past weeks watching and photographing birds on mountain-ash trees. Although I’ve known about these ornamental trees for decades, it wasn’t until these photo sessions that I really appreciated how much they brighten up our winter landscape and support biodiversity.

Despite the name “ash,” these trees are not related to the ash family, but rather belong to the Sorbus genus of the Rose family. Called rowan in Europe, the species’ mythological and folkloric roots stretch back millennia. Their bitter berries, which contain high amounts of Vitamin C, were commonly used for medicinal purposes and the bark was used to make an astringent.

Three cultivars are commonly grown in Alberta: American, European and showy mountain-ash. All grow to moderate heights and are tolerant of a wide variety of growing condition, traits that make them ideal for most backyards.

Mountain-ash trees offer beauty throughout the year: their white cluster-like flowers burst forth in the spring and the bright orange or red berries (called pomes) that follow will persist into the fall and winter. Because of their nutrition and persistence, the pomes provide an important food source for a variety of winter bird species.

Although bohemian waxwings are the birds most often see gobbling mountain-ash berries in the winter, many other species will also dine on them. I have seen pine grosbeaks (shown here) and house finches feast on the berries, and a quick reference search indicates that many other species will as well: cedar waxwing, ruffed grouse, common grackle, European starling, American robin, northern flicker, Townsend’s solitaire, purple finch, yellow-rumped warbler, hermit thrush, evening grosbeak.. The seeds are indigestible, so birds are responsible for “planting” mountain-ash trees far and wide.

Not surprisingly, there have been many reports of inebriated birds staggering about and flying erratically after consuming fermented mountain-ash berries.

Despite this risk, I highly recommend planting a mountain-ash tree or two if you would like to attract winter birds to your yard.

Although its not officially here until Dec. 21, it’s definitely starting to look a lot like winter. No doubt, lingering snowbirds are gathering their belongings and preparing to head south. I was curious to see if any summer residents or migrating songbirds were still being spotted around the state, so I checked the MOU Birding Report. The birds have obviously moved south for the winter, with the exception of a few stragglers, and they are well ahead of schedule. Late autumn is when resident and migratory birds have more difficulty finding food. Fall food availability enables resident birds to store food or fat reserves for the winter, as well as enables migratory birds to build up fat reserves before migration. Now that the abundant, convenient berries of summer and early fall are scarce, birds turn to domestic and native plants that bear berries year-round as a major source of energy. Winter berries, cotoneasters, buffaloberries, dogwood fruits, and mountain ash are among the foods consumed by numerous year-round and winter-visiting songbirds. Today’s topic, mountain ash, is one of those priceless plants that not only makes our winter landscape more colorful and lovely, but also benefits the birds. The sour berries of the mountain ash are eaten by cedar waxwings, cardinals, purple finches, juncos, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, red-headed woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows, pine, and evening grosbeaks. Normally feeding on insects, nitwitches transition to eating seeds and dried fruit in the late fall, winter, and early spring. If berries are available before these birds migrate south, robins, brown thrashers, grackles, catbirds, orioles, and bluebirds will also consume them. You can dry berries, or any berries, and add them to homemade suet cakes if you have access to mountain ash. Id only do that if theres an overabundance of fruit. Otherwise leave the berries on the trees for the birds. I’m sure the majority of you can recognize the mountain ash from the pictures of the berries. Its 6 to 8-inch compound leaves, which are made up of 13 to 17 leaflets arranged alternately, are another distinctive feature. The long, toothed-edged, bright green leaflets change to a brilliant yellow in the fall. Tiny white fragrant flowers form in delicate broad clusters. In winter, the bark is thin, smooth, light gray, and covered in irregular, plate-like scales. The buds are large and gummy. The only native species in our area is the American mountain ash (Sorbus americana). Although it grows well in northeastern Minnesota, this tree can also be found sporadically in northern Minnesota’s woods, all the way south to Pine and Mille Lacs Counties. Look for it growing naturally near wetlands and swamps, as it prefers moist environments. However, it does fairly well on thinner soils and in drier climates. Around the state, yards are home to growing ornamental species that are sold through landscape nurseries. Sorbus alnifolia, also known as the Korean mountain ash, is a striking tree with orange fruit, white blossoms, and orange fall foliage. Its leaves are smaller than other species of mountain ash. In August and September, the European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) bears its lovely orange-red fruit. Compared to American mountain ash, the buds are fluffy and the leaflets are shorter and rounder. A European cultivar known as Cardinal Royal bears abundant fruit that is brilliant orange-red in color, along with deep green foliage. Grown for its showy white flowers, handsome foliage, and eye-catching crimson fruit, the Showy mountain ash is smaller than the other three species, growing only 12 to 15 feet high. All species prefer acidic soil and thrive in full sun. The four species are recommended as great fall plants for birds in Carrol Henderson’s “Landscaping for Wildlife.” Any of the mountain ashes would be a great addition if you wanted to attract more wildlife to your yard. Incorporating wildlife-friendly flowers, shrubs, and trees into residential areas, parks, and commercial landscaping could be a means for a community to make up for the habitat that is being lost due to constant development. Pale brown, light-colored sapwood and light, soft, and weak wood characterize mountain ash. Its slow growth habit gives it very close grain. According to one of my references, this species has no commercial value to humans other than for ornamental purposes and the medicinal properties of the inner bark. I’m glad nature doesn’t need our approval, but it’s interesting how sometimes we judge the value of nature’s abundance based on how much we need or use a certain plant, animal, or habitat. Now that the snow is falling and covering the clinging mountain ash berries, I will value the tree for its aesthetic value as well as its significance to wildlife. Share Share this article.

Many other species of birds will also eat the mountain-ash berries in the winter, but bohemian waxwings are the ones that you most frequently see gobbling them down. A quick search of references shows that many other species will also be feasting on the berries, including cedar waxwing, ruffed grouse, common grackle, European starling, American robin, northern flicker, Townsend’s solitaire, purple finch, yellow-rumped warbler, hermit thrush, and evening grosbeak. I have personally observed pine grosbeaks (seen here) and house finches. Because the seeds are inedible, birds are in charge of “planting” mountain ash trees everywhere.

In spite of this risk, if you want to draw winter birds to your yard, I strongly advise planting one or two mountain-ash trees.

In Alberta, three cultivars are frequently grown: European, American, and showy mountain ash. All of them are perfect for most backyards because they grow to moderate heights and tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.

Mountain ash trees are visually stunning all year round. In the spring, they produce white cluster-like flowers, and in the fall and winter, they bear bright orange or red berries known as pomes. Numerous winter bird species rely heavily on the pomes as a food source because of their nutritional value and tenacity.

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What eats mountain ash?

The berries of American mountain-ash are eaten by numerous species of birds and small mammals, including ruffed grouse, ptarmigans, sharp-tailed grouse, blue grouse, American robins, other thrushes, waxwings, jays, squirrels, and rodents [10,33,54].

Are mountain ash berries poisonous to animals?

The European Mountain Ash and its berries have been the subject of many a dog owner’s worry. Let’s cut to the chase: no definitive evidence suggests that the berries are a death sentence for your canine companion.

Do deer eat mountain ash berries?

The American Mountain Ash berries are a major food source for many wildlife animals and birds in the winter especially. Some of these wildlife animals include squirrels, rabbits, bears, moose and white-tailed deer.

Can you eat the berries from mountain ash?

The berries may be used fresh, dried, or cooked and then dried. People take mountain ash for diabetes, diarrhea, gout, heart disease, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific research to support any of these uses. Eating large amounts of fresh mountain ash berries can also be unsafe.