Someone’s eating the berries

In low elevation areas at the foot of the North Cascades, salmonberries are quickly ripening and I have plenty of competition in the race to harvest them.

ripe salmonberrySalmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) are moderately tall shrubs with compound leaves and bright magenta flowers. The flowers later produce large, raspberry-like fruit in various shades of yellow, orange, or scarlet. According to Cascade-Olympic Natural History, the plant’s common name derives from the fruit’s ability to cut the greasiness or fishiness of salmon, not from their color. Like many sugary, wild fruits, they are relished by more than humans. Recently, other critters have beaten me to the choicest berries.

stem of plant missing its fruit

Increasingly often, I find salmonberry shrubs stripped of their ripe berries.

 

Bears, of course, will eat salmonberries, but most of the berries I’ve seen have been plucked a bit too delicately to be the work of a bear. Bright red or yellow berries aren’t just an advertisement for mammals. They attract birds as well. Cedar waxwings, in particular, are pronounced frugivores and I recently watched a few in the act of stripping a salmonberry shrub clean.

I’ll gladly yield the fruit to these birds, since they’re doing the legwork (or is it wing-work?) to disperse the seeds. In the waxwing’s digestive tract, the seeds are carried far and wide, and if the seed is extremely lucky the bird will deposit it in a moist, sunny spot with rich soil.

More than waxwings influence this plant’s reproduction, however. Earlier this spring, I watched many rufous hummingbirds visit its large magenta flowers.

magenta colored flower with five petals

The salmonberry flower.

Salmonberry blooms relatively early in the spring (I found it in full bloom in mid April this year), a time when few other hummingbird flowers are present. Salmonberry plants aren’t exclusively pollinated by hummingbirds, but I watched hummingbirds frequently visit more than one patch of salmonberry blossoms this spring, so it may be an important early source of nectar for them.

In blossom and in fruit, salmonberry is tied to birds. Have you noticed similar connections in your local ecosystem?

5 thoughts on “Someone’s eating the berries

  1. Beautiful and interesting post, Mike. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a cedar waxwing. So pretty! Haven’t seen salmonberries either, for that matter. Noticed today, a couple of squirrels enjoying my few raspberries. Usually the robins and bluejays get them. Are you missing Dumpling’s blueberries? Saw the pics of the tick. Yikes!

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    • I’ll be looking for squirrels to share in the feast now. I had to guard the two strawberries I was able to grow last year from robins. Sweet and large fruit is well loved by many critters.

      Oh, I’ll have access to more blueberries than I can eat within a month or so. While Dumpling’s blueberries were good, they were very tedious to pick and not very big. The cultivated and wild blueberries in Washington are quite delicious and easier to get.

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  2. I can easily get 40 or 50 waxwings on some of my larger bushes in March, stripping fruit. The entire bush will look “alive” with the wings of the birds for an hour or so. It makes it easy to visualize what flocks of Passenger Pigeons or Carolina Parakeets must have been like a century ago

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  3. We have many many salmon berries on our property, I never knew that the hummingbirds frequented the flowers. Wondered what they were surviving on when they returned this year, it was so cold and wet not much was blooming. I will look for waxwings also.

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