Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cedar Waxwings on the Prairie and Invasive Plants

Cedar waxwings are busy feasting on the berries of trees and shrubs all across north Texas. 

They ate all the berries from my possumhaw hollies, Ilex decidua, a couple of days ago and then moved across the street for a Japanese buffet courtesy of a large Japanese ligustrum, Ligustrum lucidum, pictured above.

Of course, what goes in must come out. So everywhere the cedar waxwings go, they will more than likely be dropping the seeds of their feasts. 

If you look closely, you can see some of the seeds the cedar waxwings dropped on the sidewalk in front of my house while they perched on an overhanging tree limb.  Every year numerous Japanese ligustrum seedlings sprout under trees and shrubs and around the bird baths in my garden because the birds did what comes naturally after eating their fill of berries. But I don't blame the birds. They were hungry and they ate the food that was available to them.

Birds are an effective means of seed disbursal. When birds fly from areas landscaped with non-native plant species into native plant habitats for food and shelter, they often carry inside them the seeds of non-native plants. Once the birds release the seeds, they sprout and grow quickly. Often the non-native plants grow and spread more quickly than the native plants. Eventually, the native plants are choked out. This is one of the reasons many natural areas are over run with invasive, non-native plants such as Japanese ligustrum, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), and many others. 

When Plants Attack is a short video from Texas Parks and Wildlife that highlights non-native plants in wild areas and the effort it takes to remove these alien invaders.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the cedar waxwings always eat the berries from my possumhaws before they eat the berries from the Japanese ligustrum across the street. Possumhaw berries are like home cooking. It is the food that generations of cedar waxwings ate. Foreign junk foods, like Japanese ligustrum berries, are the bird’s second choice because native berries are in short supply and the only alternatives are the fruits and berries of non-native plants.

As you take inventory of the plants in your landscape, think about the potential ramifications those plants could have on wild areas in your neighborhood or even miles away. You may decide you need to remove some non-native plants and replace them with native plants. The birds will thank you.


  1. Thanks for the info on the Cedar Waxwings. They pass through here later, and yes they eat the many native berry bushes I have i the gardens. It will be some weeks before I see them in person. Jack

  2. Hi Jack. I like cedar waxwings. They are here for the winter and return to the north after they pick all the berries off our trees and shrubs in the spring.

  3. I'm so jealous of your cedar waxwings! We had two sightings in our yard this year--only TWO. And they didn't want my possumhaw berries. New leaves and the berries are still hanging on the tree. But we do have a lot of ashe juniper so maybe they were going for that.

    You have sharp eyes to have caught my name in the credits to the wildflowers film, and to have recognized some of the scenes. I sent Linda some of my favorite wildflower routes and she included them in the filming and was kind enough to include me in the credits--more credit than I deserved, but fun. She did an amazing job integrating the connection of the flowers with history and life.


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