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Sunday - September 06, 2009

From: Gettysburg, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Chemical composition of native plants for birds
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I am looking for specific information on the biochemistry/nutrition of native plants as they relate to bird nutrition. ie. protein,fat,carbohydrate,vitamin etc found in northeast woody natives for a talk to audoban society here in Gettysburg. for example: What is the breakdown of nutrition components found in Viburnum lentago fruit. All literature seems to be general and I would like to know the biochemistry a bird is getting.


As far as I have been able to determine, there is no specific information on the chemical/nutritional composition for Viburnum lentago (nannyberry).  I did find information for Viburnum opulus (European cranberrybush) in a paper by Mark C. Witmer, "Nutritional Interactions and Fruit Removal:  Cedar Waxwing Consumption of Viburnum opulus Fruits in Spring" [Ecology, Vol. 82, no. 11 (Nov., 2001), pp 3120-3130].    Some of the birds were fed the fruits of the cranberry bush alone, some exclusively on catkins of Populus deltoides (eastern cottonwood), and some were fed both.  The paper followed the concentrations of sugars in the fruits across seasons and in the fecal matter of the waxwings.  The fecal matter was also analyzed for nitrogen to determine the protein content. There is a thorough discussion of the nutrition of this fruit and flower diet for the cedar waxwings. 

From the journal article above I found a reference to an earlier article that might be the sort of thing you are looking for.  The article by Robert A. Johnson et al. "Nutritional Values of Wild Fruits and Consumption by Migrant Frugivorous Birds" is in Ecology, Vol. 66, no. 3 (June, 1985), pp. 819-827.    The birds in question are:  Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Gray-cheeked Thrush, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Veery, Wood Thrush, and Red-eyed Vireo.  In the Appendix of this paper (pp. 826-827) you will find a table that gives:

"Variation in mass and morphology, cation content, and nutrient content of individual fruits collected in central Illinois (except A. rubra in Minnesota)." 

The plant species included are:  Rubus allegheniensis, Arisaema triphyllum, Caulophyllum thalictroides, Prunus serotina, Sambucus canadensis (syn.=S. nigra ssp. canadensis), Cornus racemosa, Smilacina racemosa (syn.=Maianthemum racemosus ssp. racemosum), Polygonatum commutatum (syn.=P. biflorum var. commutatum), Phytolacca americana, Actaea rubra, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Solanum americanum, Celastrus scandens, Panax quinquefolius, Vitis vulpina, Celtis occidentalis, Lindera benzoin, Menispermum canadense, Smilax hispida (syn.=S. tamnoides), Smilax lasioneura, Euonymus atropurpurea, and Rhus radicans (syn.=Toxicodendron radicans ssp. radicans).

You can find all these plants listed in our Native Plant Database. With the exception of Solanum americanum and Smilax lasioneura, all the above plants occur in Pennsylvania (according to the USDA Plants Database) so they should be appropriate for your talk to the Audubon Society meeting in Gettysburg.

Additionally, I would like to recommend Bringing Nature Home:  How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas Tallamy (2007, Portland, Oregon: Timber Press)—in particular, Chapter 13: What does bird food look like?  This chapter describes the insects that feed on the plants and are then fed on by the birds.  So, the chemical components of the plants are important to the birds, not only as food for the birds, but as nutrition for the insects that make up the major portion of the diet of many birds.



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