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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - March 27, 2007

From: Fort Worth, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Hackberry stripped by Cedar Waxwings or American Goldfinches
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I live in Fort Worth. My one and only tree in the backyard is a 23 year old hackberry. While not infested with gall or weevils, we have been invaded this past few weeks by hordes of small, chubby, yellow-breasted birds (smaller than our pesky grackles and starlings) who have stripped every bud, seed and feathery flowering part (sorry I don't remember my botanical terms) leaving it totally bare, save the rare and puny few leaves that somehow escaped detection in their formative stage. These little visitors were here probably two weeks systematically stripping the tree and now since there's no more supply have most likely moved on. My questions are (1) Will they return when the second set of buds appear? (2) Would you happen to know what kind of birds these are, as they've never visited our tree in the 23 years we've had it? (3) If these little darlings return, is there some means of deterring them? I know it's just a hackberry, but it's MY hackberry......help, please !!

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants checked with a "birding" friend who suggested two possibilites for your marauding birds: Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches. Both forage in flocks and would be about the size you describe. David Sibley, in The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, says "In spring, waxwings feed on remnant fruit crops, as well as buds, sap drips, and flowers of apple, cherry, aspen, cottonwood, maple, and oak trees." He reports that the "...finches consume seeds and buds still attached to trees and bushes." They feed in flocks and are "highly gregarious in all seasons." My "birding" friend has seen them strip budding elm trees. Why either of these birds would focus on Celtis laevigata var. reticulata (netleaf hackberry) rather than one of the other trees named above probably has to do with environmental factors that caused the hackberry to be the one tree to have abundant delicious buds and flowers ready to eat before the other trees.

Will they return? Perhaps, but probably not because some other tree will likely be ready with tasty buds and flowers by then.

Should they return, however, you can see a list of Humane Bird Deterrents from the San Francisco SPCA.

 

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