Mockingbird and staghorn sumac

A few days ago while walking on my neighbor’s farm on an unseasonably warm day, I came across a northern mockingbird perched atop a plume of staghorn sumac. What a pleasant surprise. This animated songster is one of my favorite birds!

Since males and females look alike, I couldn’t determine the sex, but this one that I shall refer to as a “he” was surrounded by a tangle of shrubs and vines. Mockingbird heaven. I figured he would fly as soon as I raised my camera, but he was a very obliging fellow and let me snap several pictures.

I know that game birds like grouse, pheasants, quail, and wild turkeys eat sumac berries, but often wondered what other birds do. Turns out, a whopping 300 species of birds including mockingbirds, robins, crows, and bluebirds incorporate the fruit of staghorn sumac into their diet. It’s very fast growing and forms “thicket colonies” in the wild via self-seeding and root suckering. These sumac “tree colonies” also provide nesting and shelter sites for many bird species.

What many people don’t know about staghorn sumac is the tiny greenish-yellow flowers which bloom in the spring are a very important source of nectar for several butterfly species, including banded and striped hairstreaks. It is also a larval host of the spring azure butterfly. Rated as a plant of “Special Value to Native Bees,” it is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees for its pollen and nectar.

The things you learn by doing something as simple as taking a walk!

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