Birds left searching for seeds in spring

Sunday, March 13, 2011

As winter draws to a close, many of our songbirds are going through a stressful time. Songbirds that rely on seeds to sustain them through winter may find themselves surviving on less and less. Many natural occurrences cause this.

Seed that naturally falls from the parent plant to the ground may be rendered ineffectual to songbirds in many ways. Some of the seed may become buried deep under autumn's fallen leaves. Some seed may be swept away by heavy rain or destroyed by flood. Some will have been eaten by flocks of migrating birds. Some may have taken root during autumn or early winter. And still other seed may have rotted. Ice storms and snow may also put seed out of reach for several days at a time.

By mid-March in Southeast Missouri the natural wild seed supply needed by songbirds can be running low. Yet, as this photo proves, there is at least one plant, wild sumac, that holds onto its seeds all the way through winter. I've seen several species of songbirds eating sumac seeds recently, including robins, flickers, mockingbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, a towhee and the male cardinal in the photo.

If you have been feeding birds at your bird feeder this winter, please don't stop just yet. Your feathered friends may be relying on you more right now than you realize.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the O'Tenem Gallery.

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