About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What do warblers eat...besides poison ivy berries?

I ask because for the last few years I've had a large number of yellow-rumped warblers eating the poison ivy berries from a stand of willow and poplar that grows in a low area in the pasture, but I've never seen them come into the feeders in the yard.  I am NOT stocking the feeders with poison ivy berries! ~ Lynn

Poison Ivy: Leaves of three, let it be! Berries white, take flight! 

Most warblers eat beetles, flies, wasps, caterpillars, moths and other insects. However, before and during migration these insect-eating songbirds add more fruits and berries to their diet.

Poison ivy is a very widespread and productive plant that produces dense clusters of white berries that ripen between August and November. Over sixty species of birds have been documented to eat the berries of poison ivy. These birds, obviously, do not become sensitized to the volatile oils and do not experience allergic reactions to the plant.

During migration, many birds may fly at night for hours without a break on their way to their wintering grounds. At each rest stop they must forage for sufficient food to hold them over for the next leg of their journey.

Of course most people aren’t comfortable cultivating poison ivy even if it helps the birds. But there are other native plants that can provide food and shelter for the birds that you can feel comfortable planting closer to the house. Virginia Creeper, viburnum, holly, spicebush, American bittersweet, dogwood, crabapples, sassafras, and grape vines are just a few. Pokeweed, not normally sold in greenhouses, also produces a late summer cluster of pretty, purple berries that is irresistible to a lot of birds.

To attract warblers to a seed feeder try a blend with sunflower seed and peanuts like our no-mess blend. I often see warblers that are passing through stop at my suet or nut feeders. You can also smear peanut butter and left-over suet on tree bark for them to find.

I've been told that Bluebirds are the responsible/guilty party for much of the poison ivy that springs up in inappropriate places, but I had no idea there were THAT many perpetrators. Kinda makes me wonder what the berries taste like, that they attract such a following.... But, no, the curiosity only extends so far.

You can blame the birds for depositing the seeds but man is more responsible for the expansion of the poison ivy plant. It is more common now than when Europeans first arrived in North America. It is believed that development of real estate adjacent to wild, undeveloped land has produced "edge effects," enabling poison ivy to establish vast, lush colonies.

In the open field the grass usually wins over time, and in the deep woods the ivy probably can't get enough light. But at the edge of the field, forest, parking lot, or road - the poison ivy wins out. 

WARNING: All parts of the poison ivy plant can cause harm to humans because the urushiol oil present in the entire plant including the leaves, stems, roots, berries, and vines. The oil is present in live plants, dead plants, and in dormant plants (like the vines in winter). Contact with the plant through touch or from release of oils through burning can cause rashes, difficulty breathing, swollen eyes, or throat and immediate medical attention should be sought.

Related Articles:
- Warblers in Michigan http://goo.gl/0YNOc3
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/Gmn0b
Michigan warblers begin migrating http://goo.gl/37QhV
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/yAR4pm
- Best field guide for Michigan birds http://bit.ly/vPOMx1

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