For the Birds: Keeping Winter Habitat for Birds

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lincoln Sparrow on blackberry cane
Photo by Scott Ramos
By Christine Southwick

When you are cleaning up your yard for winter, keep some leaves, shrubs, and even blackberries for our wintering birds. 

Blow those leaves off your lawns, but leave some in your flower beds, or at least in a corner of your yard. 

Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, and maybe even a Fox Sparrow will entertain you as they dig through those leaves to find their insect delicacies.

Wild areas, often having Himalayan Blackberry, protect wildlife, including birds, from predators and from the elements, (just ask Brer Rabbit). Blackberry thorns, and the overhanging canes, provide escape routes, perches, shelter from most snow and frosts, small delicious bugs, and fruits for much of the year.

Golden Crowned Sparrows beside blackberries
Photo by Elaine Chuang
Local birders know that resident ground birds like our sparrows, Spotted Towhees, and Bewick’s Wrens can be found in blackberry patches.

One special ground bird that comes to the Puget Sound area to benefit from our milder winters is the Fox Sparrow. Fox Sparrows here will always be found in, or adjacent to, blackberry brambles.

Take away Himalayan Blackberries, and those wintering Fox Sparrows will leave to seek the protections of another patch.

So when removing invasives in your yard, parks, or wetlands, it is healthier for birds and other wildlife to leave some blackberries and remove all NON-BENEFICIAL invasives first:

Local invasives listed below displace native and beneficial plants, causing loss of grassland and native forest habitat. They aggressively spread to form monocultures, replacing desirable native plants and young trees. They are on the Washington State Noxious Weed list, class B:
  • Ivy (all types here), 
  • Knotweed, 
  • Scotch Broom, 
  • Butterfly Bush (fast reproducing, even out-competes blackberries here), 
  • English Holly (King County noxious weed control list) “Invades native forest habitats where dense thickets suppress germination and growth of native trees and shrubs. A glutton for water, holly can prevent surrounding plants from obtaining sufficient moisture.”

Bewick's Wren in sheltering brambles
Photo by JR
Humans don’t like thorns. Cats, raccoons, coyotes and other predators don’t like them either. This is why many ground birds value these sheltering brambles.

Himalayan Blackberries can be cut back easily, and a person can get a visceral reward for reclaiming a “dangerous space”. 

So keep small patches of blackberry (five foot is better than none) to provide much needed habitat. 
Trim as needed. In the fall-winter blackberries are valued by birds, and small patches make it easy to pick summertime berries for delicious blackberry pies.



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