Bayberries and Butterbutts

By John Harrod, Manager, DuPont Environmental Education Center

Earlier this week, while walking along the Wilmington Riverfront on a relatively warm day in February, I spotted a bird that most people might not expect to see in the city. I wasn’t surprised to see it, though, since the plantings along the Riverfront include northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), one of this bird’s favorite winter foods.

 What was it?…a Yellow-rumped Warbler, or as it is known to some birders, the “Butterbutt.”

Yellow-rumped Warbler. By Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com
Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo by Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com

Identified by the distinctive yellow patch on their rump, these warblers are fond of the waxy, white fruit of the bayberry and its southern counterpart, the wax myrtle (Morella cerifera). Every year these birds winter in Delaware and can easily be found along the coast where Morella is prolific. They also winter in the Midwest and southeastern U.S., although there they rely on alternate food sources such as berries of the eastern red cedar and poison ivy.

Bayberry fruit. Photo by John Harrod
Bayberry fruit. Photo by John Harrod

I don’t expect you to run out and plant poison ivy, but bayberry is definitely garden-worthy. In the landscape, bayberry averages 9 feet tall and grows in full sun to part shade, thrives in poor, sterile, sandy soil, and even performs well in heavy clay soil. (An interesting side note: The plant also provides the scent for “baybreeze” candles.) If you like the idea of adding bayberry to your yard, plan to pick up a few of the plants at the Delaware Nature Society’s Native Plant Sale the first weekend in May.  Plant it and they will come!

Yellow-rumped Warbler in a bayberry on the Wilmington Riverfront. Photo by John Harrod.
Yellow-rumped Warbler in a bayberry on the Wilmington Riverfront. Photo by John Harrod.

 If you would like to learn more about attracting wildlife to your property or certifying it as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat, visit the Delaware Nature Society’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat webpage: http://www.delawarenaturesociety.org/bwh.html.

2 thoughts on “Bayberries and Butterbutts”

  1. When we came to Delaware I thought we would take up bird watching. But my husband and I are both artists and we’ve been so busy with our art that we have not made the time for it. This site allows me to do it from my computer! I enjoy it very much. Thanks!!

  2. Robert Pelletier

    I’m a writer for Northern Home Garden and Leisure Magazine (www.northernhgl.com) and would like to use the image of bayberry on bare branches in an article on winter ornamentals fir our Feb. issue. A higher resolution image would be preferred for best image quality in print. Full photo credits will be included, of course. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    regards,
    Robert Pelletier
    Northern HGL
    (450) 294-3377, ckehne@accglobal.net

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