A Closer Look: Native Winter Berries

By Caroline Farrow

A feast for wildlife when they need it most

In the dark cold days of winter, nothing is more cheery in the grey landscape than colourful winter berries dotting the hedgerows. However not only are they beautiful , they provide a vital food source for birds, insects, and mammals when little other food is available. All of the following berries can be found growing wild and in gardens in Ealing. They are a great addition to any garden/greenspace to help the wildlife through the winter! (I realise that several of these are technically not berries, but I will refer to them as such for the sake of convenience)

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

“Hawthorn Berries” by Acradenia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

You can find hawthorn pretty much everywhere in the Borough, on the sides of the A40, up on Horsenden Hill, the Bunny Park, everywhere. Found in hedgerows the fruits are called Haws and are eaten by loads of migrating birds such as Redwings, Waxwings and Fieldfares. Our natives such as Blackbirds, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Hawfinches, Starlings and many other birds enjoy them too!

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

“Eating rowan berries” by hedera.baltica is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Rowan is another winter bird favourite, including Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Fieldfare and Waxwing. This feeds more than just birds, caterpillars of the apple fruit moth feed on the berries as well!

Dog rose (Rosa canina)

“Chilly Rosehips” by William Parsons Pilgrim is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

These beautiful native hedgerow roses turn into the bright red hips that feed birds such as Thrushes, Blackbirds, Redwing, Fieldfare  and Waxwings, which then disperse the seeds in their droppings, and some birds like finches actually eat the seeds!

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorn sloes by Caroline Farrow

The beautiful plum like drupes of the Blackthorn (called sloes) provide insects, mammals, and larger birds like the thrushes and hawfinches a lovely midwinter feast. Humans also use them for making flavoured gin!

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

 “Spindle berries” by ngawangchodron is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

House Sparrows, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, various Tits, and Starlings, and even mice and foxes eat the berries of the spindle. (It’s poisonous to humans though!). I haven’t seen a lot of spindle in Ealing, but I might just not be looking in the right places though as it’s a sign of ancient woodland. I will keep an eye out for it in our local bits of woodland such as Long Wood, Fox Wood, Horsenden Wood, and Perivale wood. Please let us know in the comments if you spot any out and about!

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

“Holly Berries” by Me in ME is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Most birds leave these until later in the winter; they eat certain berries at certain times in the winter to ensure they have enough to last until spring. Mistle Thrushes, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Redwings all eat the berries. However the Mistle Thrushes don’t mess around, they will aggressively guard their berries to prevent all the other birds from getting any! Small mammals like wood mice and dormice also enjoy them.

Ivy (Hedera helix)

“Ivy berries” by rcasha is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This is another high fat, calorie dense berry that the birds leave until late winter when the other berries have dwindled and the ground is still too hard to forage for worms and insects and nothing else is growing. Some of the bird species that enjoy Ivy berries are Thrushes, Blackcaps, Bullfinches, Wood Pigeons, Blackbirds, Doves, Warblers, and Jays. And despite popular belief Ivy does not kill trees!

Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)

“Guelder Rose Berries.” by cazstar is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Another ancient woodland indicator, the red berries are an important food source for birds, including Bullfinches and Mistle Thrushes. Far from ancient woodland however, the berries are a favourite food of Waxwings coming from Scandinavia who can often be seen scarfing them down in car parks! If anyone knows of a local guelder rose landscaped car park, please comment below so we can all potentially see some Waxwings this winter!

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

“Mistletoe berries” by Hornbeam Arts is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I almost didn’t include mistletoe because it is relatively scarce in Ealing (and London in general) but can you talk about winter berries and not mention mistletoe? Mistletoe doesn’t grow as a separate shrub, they are parasites and derive most of their nutrients from their host trees. They particularly like Hawthorn, Lime, Poplar, Sycamore, Ash, and in the UK their favourite is Apple trees. They are hemi parasitical however so they do also photosynthesize. Blackcaps love mistletoe, they eat the pith but wipe the sticky seeds off their bills and onto the tree branches, helping the mistletoe find new hosts trees. Mistle Thrushes (unsurprisingly) also enjoy mistletoe berries.

2 Comments

  1. Terry Jones

    Nice photos!
    There are some spindle trees in Walpole Park. one is at the Culmington Road entrance, on the left amid lots of other vegetation. The other is along the outer path on the right, after you come into the Culmington Road entrance. Note they are not the sort of tree that gets huge – they look more like bushes, about 5-6 feet tall max.

  2. Tim Henderson

    There is spindle in Long Wood – but I fear it is planted rather than “native” from its ancient woodland days. The largest tree is on what was the triangle of golf course land that was severed from Wyke Green Golf Course when the M4 was built. Bits of this were planted in the early 1980’s. It is now surrounded by self-sown plants. Encouraged by its success the Rangers have planted a few more spindle more recently in the vicinity.

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