Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wild birdseed

Deer-tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum).

"Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds?" - H.D. Thoreau

Today I found a flock of 25 bobolinks gorging on seeds in a patch of grass (below). It reminded me that wild seed bonanzas can rival birdfeeders in quality and quantity. The bobolinks, plus about 10 savannah sparrows, were confined to a patch of one particular type of grass, a native species named deer-tongue (Dichanthelium clandestinum). It is recognized by its fat leaves, hairy stem, and seeds hidden within a tube at the top of the plant (hence the "clandestine" species name, I guess). The birds were flying from plant to plant, voraciously picking the seeds out of the tops. It reminded me of another natural spectacle: the multi-species bird parties that occur in a fruiting red mulberry tree in June. Always more satisfying to watch (for me) than a bird feeder for some reason.

Bobolinks at the "feeder."

Later in the day, I came across two more bird parties. One, again, in a patch of deer-tongue, and another in a patch of different native plant: lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album). The lamb's quarter party was less diverse - consisting only of savannah sparrows - but it was just as hopping.

Lamb's quarter (Chenopodium album).

The savannahs were obviously quite happy gorging themselves on the seeds, which are quite a bit smaller than deer-tongue's, and in fact look like tiny black specks.

The small but tasty seeds of lamb's quarters.

They are apparently humans too. Wild food guru Euell Gibbons recommends grinding them into a hearty flour. (As a side note, I happen to know that the leaves are also much relished by real lambs.) Mixed in with the lamb's quarters was another native (though often disparaged) birdseed-bearing plant: ragweed. The birds will have to wait a while for this one, however. Right now it is still in the pollen-spewing (sneeze-inducing) flower stage.


  1. It's really rewarding to see birds come to plants in a field.

    Although in a garden on our campus, coneflowers were planted in the garden beds. Early in the morning, before most workers arrived, we would find American goldfinches harvesting the seeds, a colleague and I would just stand and watch these industrious little birds working their way among the plants. Much more fun than a feeder.

  2. I enjoy watching chickadees land on our weedy seedy grasses, bending them almost to the ground with their miniscule weight, then stripping the tips bare before hopping to another to start over.

  3. Nice! I've seen sparrows (I think Juncos) "ride" grass stems to the ground like that.