Tuesday, February 23, 2010

a birder blind spot

Back in January when the sage thrasher was hanging out at Salisbury Beach State Reservation a birder suggested bringing bittersweet and winterberry to start a feeding area for it to lure it out and make it easier to see. Ignoring the ethics of luring the bird out into the open for birder convenience for now, what about the ethics of spreading bittersweet? This seems like a blind spot in the birding community.

The most common species of bittersweet in Massachusetts is the invasive Asiatic bittersweet (C. orbiculatus), distinguishable from native bittersweet (C. scandens) by the distribution of the berries along the stems. Birds do like it, that's for sure. Robins in particular eat a lot of it and are very instrumental in spreading it. I've even seen postings to massbird.org over the years opposing efforts to remove Asiatic bittersweet from wildlife refuges because it's an important winter food for American robins.

Recently Birds and Blooms posted a video on how to make a wreath featuring bittersweet to attract birds. The video clearly shows Asiatic bittersweet. Hanging a tantalizing wreath full of Asiatic bittersweet in your yard will definitely attract birds. However, it will also spread bittersweet all over your yard, your neighbors' yards, and anywhere else those birds go after they've eaten the berries.

Bittersweet overruns other plants quickly and destructively. A bittersweet invasion killed my raspberry bushes and a couple of junipers. It totally strangled them. It even broke a fencepost. After trying various techniques to get rid of the bittersweet, I ended up having the yard dug up and a stone patio put in (with two small flowerbeds on the sides). Of course my tiny condo yard doesn't amount to anything compared with the destruction bittersweet would do in a coastal environment like Salisbury Beach. Good-bye native vegetation.

However, birders continue to advocate spreading Asiatic bittersweet. Is this from lack of awareness or is it from a mindset that puts our need to see birds ahead of conservation of the whole habitat?

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