Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cascara Berries are for the Birds; Mine are for Cedar Waxwings

When I planted four Cascara Buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana) trees in my yard several years ago, my yard didn't have much to offer the wildlife.  So I couldn't wait for my new trees to mature enough to produce lots of berries, which would hopefully bring in lots of native birds during the summer months.

Berries of the Cascara Buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana)

Cascara berries start out green, then change to red, then black as they ripen.  They are edible, but I'm told they're bitter.  Wikipedia says that the fruit "has a laxative effect. The food industry sometimes uses cascara as a flavoring agent for liquors, soft drinks, ice cream, and baked goods."

My trees have finally grown to a fairly good size over the past year or two, and the wildlife has definitely taken note. Bees and other pollinators seem to love the tiny spring blooms, and flocks of Bushtits come to search for insects among the leaves.

As for the berries, I'm a little sad to say that most of them get eaten by European Starlings.  I know, I know... European Starlings have been around a long time now, and some people find them attractive.  I think they're just a little too pushy and voracious, hogging all the food which could support more native birds.

Recently though, I have seen Northern Flickers eating the berries.  And just the other day, I finally saw the bird that I've been hoping to see for 5 years now... the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)!  Cedar Waxwings have to be one of the most beautiful birds in Oregon, with their silky smooth feathers - which look like they've been carved from wood and sanded to a perfect finish.  Their elegant black masks, their yellow-tipped tail feathers, and the little red wax tips on their wing feathers give these birds a lot of flare.

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) (Drawn by my father, Jerry Nenninger)

Before seeing the Waxwings in my yard, the only other place I've gotten a close look at them was at Elk Rock Island, in Milwaukie. Since seeing them in my yard, I've also seen them on Rocky Butte, and now that I know their calls, I've heard them at Mount Scott Park.

Here's a little photo and video montage I put together.  The Cedar Waxwings in this video look a little scruffy because it was raining lightly at the time.  It shows both adult and juvenile birds.


  1. Thank you! I have cascaras and am wondering what birds might like them. Also want to know what trees benefit chickadees.

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