RIGHT IN OUR BACKYARD: It’s Raining Birdseed!

As I was walking from the library to the parking lot on a recent sunny but sub-freezing day, I noticed a clicking sound and things falling from above. I heard a loud clattering and chattering sound, as well. 

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Published February 8, 2014 3:30 PM
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starling-thumbAs I was walking from the library to the parking lot on a recent sunny but sub-freezing day, I noticed a clicking sound and things falling from above. I heard a loud clattering and chattering sound, as well. 

 

By Bill Lawyer   

Starlings-on-snowAs I was walking from the library to the parking lot on a recent sunny but sub-freezing day, I noticed a clicking sound and things falling from above. I heard a loud clattering and chattering sound, as well.  

When I looked down, I saw pods scattered all over the ground. Then I looked up and saw the tree filled with birds, working diligently to remove the pods from the bare branches and twigs of the tree overhead. After a few seconds, I was able to identify them as what are commonly known as common starlings.

My standing there and looking up at them had no effect on their arboreal activity. They did, however, stop from coming down to get at the pods where I was until I walked away.  

The golden rain tree where all this activity occurred is growing quite well at the southwestern end of the Village Green, right above the parking lot. Its scientific name is Koelreuteria paniculata.  

Raintrees are a type of legume, and in the late summer they produce seedpods. These pods are produced when the trees’ clusters of colorful, yellow, drooping flowers are pollinated. The flowers have both male and female parts.  

No doubt someone gave the tree its common name because the drooping flower clusters look like golden rain falling from above. Someone with a sense of romance.  

But what was raining on me was definitely not golden.

While golden rain trees are not native (they originated in Asia), they have been around for quite a while, and the Arbor Day Foundation recommends them for the Northeast.  

starlingIn some parts of the South, golden rain trees are considered invasive, as they grow fairly quickly in conditions that are not as hospitable for native species – such as disturbed, eroded areas. Scientists from the Urban Horticulture Institute at Cornell University and the Arnold Arboretum report that they are very salt tolerant.  

The trees’ pods are divided into two to four sections, each of which has one or more fruits, which are what we would think of as seeds, about one-fifth inch in diameter.  

As we all know, this has been a much colder than average winter, so I guess it’s not surprising that the birds were feasting on the seeds. In fact, I was sort of surprised that the birds had waited until this long to dig in.  

Perhaps these birds had been saving the seeds for last, after all the other food sources had been consumed. Several naturalists have attested that humans can safely eat the seeds, although I’m not in any hurry to test that claim.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me that Friday, and when I went back on Saturday there were only a few birds picking the last of the seeds and eating them on the ground. But the snow, sidewalk and steps by the tree were all covered with the remains of the pods and seeds, and the droppings of the birds.  

Scientists, according to avid birder and author David Silbey, don’t seem to have too much hard data as to the migration habits of common starlings. They were only first introduced from Europe to the United States in 1890 (that’s a whole other story), so the common starlings don’t have the clear migratory habits most native species do.  

I couldn’t help but wonder where those starlings came from.  

One thing’s for sure – there was a flock of hundreds of starlings feasting on the golden rain tree that afternoon – right in Rye’s backyard.

 

 

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