I Spy Friday: Holly Berries and the Animals that Eat Them

Robin in holly bush

Sorry for the blurriness of this photo, but it was taken through my window screen (I couldn’t open the screen, it was frozen shut!).  I have a large holly bush right outside a window in my kitchen.  Actually the bush is so large that the kids have a fort underneath it in the summer!  The “bush” reaches the windows on the second story of my house, so maybe I should call it a holly tree instead!  I love this holly tree because it attracts many birds both in the summer and winter, and it gives me a clandestine glance at nature.

Although they are beautiful, holly berries should not be consumed by humans or their favorite pets.  Holly can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, even if they’re not lethal.  I was surprised when I noticed how many birds seemed attracted to my holly bush this winter.  If holly (ilex opaca) isn’t good for a dog, how can a bird digest it?  And why do I only notice birds feeding on this beautiful bush in the late winter?

I’m still not sure what it is about birds that gives them an iron stomach, but I do know why they start eating holly berries late in the season.  Most birds prefer a sweeter fruit like blackberries, cherries and the fruit of dogwood and magnolia trees, among others.  Once the “good stuff” has been consumed in the fall and early winter, they look to holly berries for sustenance.  Squirrels and deer also consume this plant to survive in the winter.

So which species of birds are most likely to feast on holly berries?  Robins, waxwings, mockingbirds, blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves, grouse, bobwhite, and wild turkey.  (This sounds like just about all of the bird species we see in Western PA!)

Do you have a holly bush (or tree) that attracts wildlife to your yard?

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Sarah Korhnak

A nature lover busy making her own backyard brilliant!

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