Whenever we discuss feeding birds in a backyard setting invariably the discussion centers around offering birds seeds, suet, and other offerings in feeders hung outside our homes. While supplemental feeding is important, the foods provided by native plants is often far more valuable to our feathered neighbors. One of these native food plants is the common pokeweed.
One of the reasons it is rarely mentioned is because few people are inclined to plant pokeweed in a garden. Although it possesses colorful stems and berries, I suspect most homeowners deem this large, gangly perennial plant unworthy of growing alongside a bed of zinnias, or towering above their roses. However, the plant’s reputation of being a weed belies its value as a plant that produces food relished by a host of birds.
For this reason, my wife and I permit pokeberries to grow in idle spots around the perimeter of our property. These are places we where we allow native vegetation to flourish. These areas are occasionally mowed to prevent the intrusion of tree saplings. We also remove any foreign invasive plants that happen to appear.
If you decide to encourage pokeweed plants to grow in an idle corner of your property, you will have the opportunity to view scores of hungry birds dining on plant’s dark purple, juicy berries. The birds you are most likely to see are year-round residents such as northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, eastern bluebirds, European starlings, mourning doves, American crows, red-bellied woodpeckers, and northern cardinals. In preparation for, and during their fall migrations, birds that nest here and elsewhere in North America, also gobble up pokeberries to help fuel their hazardous journey to their wintering grounds. The list of neotropical migrants that dine on pokeberries includes the gray catbird, eastern kingbird, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, veery, summer tanager, and hooded warbler. Later when the migratory birds that winter in the Peach state arrive, they rarely pass up the opportunity to feed on what pokeberries remain. These birds include the likes of the hermit thrush, cedar waxwing as well as fox and white-throated sparrows.
Chances are you have never seen some of these birds in your backyard. With that in mind, if you want to enhance your chances of catching glimpses of these birds without leaving the confines or your property, while providing a nutrient-rich source of food for birds and other wildlife, find a place for common pokeweed on your land.