Urban Oases bird project is proving fruitful

Monday, October 19, 2009

As we near the end of fall migration, birders who have been scouting Fairchild and Matheson Hammock since late August for important food plants for songbirds have come upon some surprises.

Wild lime, soldierwood and the caimito, as well as its cousin satin leaf, are among the plants playing a large role in fueling birds heading south. A tropical catalpa and native and non-native figs in the Arboretum are also providing nourishment to such birds as black-throated blue warblers, parula warblers, redstarts, vireos, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles.

John Ogden's photo of a red-eyed vireo
feeding on wild lime in the Bahamas
planting in the lowlands.

John Ogden, director of bird conservation for Audubon of Florida, has been keeping a running count of the birds in several areas of the garden, Matheson Hammock and around Palm Lodge on Avocado Drive in Homestead in the first trial-run of the Urban Oases Project for Songbirds.  Close to 100 separate observations of birds feeding in plants have been tabulated over the last seven weeks. Counts will continue through the end of October and a full report will be completed in early November.

The early success means Ogden plans to make the project a statewide program for spring migration.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is interested in running the project along the Atlantic coast  of the United States.

The garden’s Arboretum, Keys Coastal Habitat and Bahamas planting in the lowlands are proving to be especially songbird-friendly, Ogden said last week. Standouts include:

Satin leaf and caimito trees line one side of the allee, and this “clump” of related trees

The large tree is the caimito and to
either side are satin leaf trees.

(Chrysophyllum oliviforme and C. cainito) is attracting groups of birds again and again, Ogden said. Here, birds found plentiful insects in the tiny flowers.

Soldierwood, Colubrina elliptica  also has tiny flowers in the axils of its oblong leaves, found frequently by summer tanagers, warblers and vireos.

In the Bahamas planting, a wild lime (or lime prickly ash) that grows among a number of cinnecords (Acacia choriophylla) was a magnet for vireos, Ogden said.

 A Catalpa longissima drew several parulas, while a strangler fig, banyan and Ficus racemosa, sometimes called the cluster fig, provided fruit for Tennessee warblers, black-throated blues, tanagers, orioles and others. 

In Matheson, the surprise was the chiggary grape vine, which had both fruit and flowers.

Fairchild’s Bird Day will be November 1.  The event features bird walks on the James A. Kushlan Bird Trail, talks about birds and bird gardening and even a tip on how to photograph birds in an afternoon talk. Bird plants will be available for sale at this event.

Tropical Audubon Society’s native plant sale is Nov. 7 and 8 at the Doc Thomas house in South Miami, and some of these bird-friendly trees will be available there, too.