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.”
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.
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!
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.