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Old 01-26-2009, 11:07 AM   #1
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Default Invasive Plant Species are Changing the Color of Our Birds

While reading "Birdscaping in the Midwest" by Mariette Nowak I came across this:
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Exotics & Cedar Waxwings
Other studies point to a second problem with honeysuckles - their effect on Cedar Waxwings. This common bird is a beauty, with silky-smooth gray plumage grading to a soft yellow blush on the belly, a "Lone Ranger" mask and red-tipped wing feathers. Normally, its tail is edged with a yellow band, a great aid to the quick identification of fly-by birds. But ornithologist Mark Witmar, as a graduate student at Cornell University, observed waxwings with orange rather than yellow bands and began to investigate.

... Orange-tailed birds have now been documented throughout the Midwest and Northeast. In the late 1980's biologists found that the color switch was linked to the berries of Morrow's Honeysuckle, a species imported from Japan and widely planted in the last 30 years.

Winter conducted lab experiments that showed birds fed the honeysuckle's berries during molting grew orange tail feathers. ...

... And color is extremely important to birds. Audubon ornithologist Stephen Kress said, "Plumage colors are badges used for gender and species recognition, so the effect of food on birds' color could be very disruptive." Many birds also use color in territorial disputes, with the brighter bird generally getting the best sites. ...
To learn more about Mariette Nowak's book, see this link:
Landscaping for Birds

More information on orange plumage variants can be found at this link (Craves, J.A. 1999. White-throated Sparrow with orange lores. Mich. Birds Nat. Hist. 6:87-88.):
http://www.umd.umich.edu/dept/rouge_river/wtspreprint.html
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... Orange coloration in place of yellow is most readily observed in the terminal tail band of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum). This was first seen over 30 years ago, and has since been traced to the ingestion of rhodoxanthin, a red pigment found in the berries of an introduced shrub, Morrow’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) (Hudon and Brush 1989, Witmer 1996). The pigment must be consumed during feather development in order to result in altered plumage coloration.

Other yellow-plumaged species known to consume the fruits of Morrow’s Honeysuckle have been reported with orange variants. Mulvihill et al. (1992) provide records of nine Yellow-breasted Chats (Icteria virens) and two Kentucky Warblers (Oporornis formosus) with varying amounts of orange plumage.

Brooks (1994) reports eight White-throated Sparrows with orange lores banded in western New York during the fall seasons from 1990-93. Four were hatching-year, two were after-hatching year, and two were aged unknown. They were among over 2700 white-throats banded at three locations between 1985-93.

At Pavillion Twp., Kalamazoo Co., three hatching year White-throated Sparrows with orange lores were banded as part of the Kalamazoo Nature Center's on-going operation (R. and B. Keith, pers. comm.). These were the only orange-lored birds out of 1,043 banded at this location between 1990 and 1998.

Observations of rhodoxanthin-induced color variation in birds are of interest because they coincide with the spread of an exotic Asian species, the Morrow’s Honeysuckle and its hybrids, from their point of introduction in the eastern United States. These bush honeysuckles are considered invasive and are often targeted for management or control (Luken 1996) ...
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Last edited by NEWisc; 01-26-2009 at 12:01 PM. Reason: Added info from link
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Old 01-26-2009, 11:38 AM   #2
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Wow - I guess this bird needs to listen to motherly advice along the lines of "you are what you eat". It's interesting to think that a single plant could change a bird's color.
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Old 01-26-2009, 11:03 PM   #3
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This is the type of information I love to see at this site. I knew about this but had filed it away in the back of my head. It was so nice of you to take the time to type that all out.
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Old 01-27-2009, 12:05 PM   #4
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Wow, no idea about an actual color change from exotic bush honeysuckle. I'm on a listserv for NH Birds; most of the people are tickers, some even twitchers. (not me). I have posted the information to them, and I'll be interested in the feedback. I've read that these plants have lower branches and than birds are more predator-prone if they nest in an exotic honeysuckle. Is there an easy way to tell if a honeysuckle is invasive vs. native?
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Old 01-27-2009, 12:56 PM   #5
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One key that I use is on the shrub type honeysuckles in my area is a hollow stem.

Hollow stems; exotic invasive:
Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) Asian
European Fly Honeysuckle (L. xylosteum) European
Morrow Honeysuckle (L. morrowii) European
Tatarian Honeysuckle (L. tatarica) European

Stems with solid white pith; native:
American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis)
Mountain Fly Honeysuckle (L. villosa)
Swamp Fly Honeysuckle (L. oblongifolia)

Unfortunately, this hollow stem method does not work for the vine type honeysuckles; both the native and the exotic invasive vine types have hollow stems. One way to help sort out the vine types is the fruiting pattern. Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica) blooms and fruits all along the stems; the native honeysuckle vines bloom and fruit only at the ends of the stems.
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Old 03-22-2009, 02:27 PM   #6
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Thanks for that interesting insight NEWisc. It's something that never would have occurred to me. It seems that invasive plants can have negative impacts on our native species that are more far reaching than most people would imagine.
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bird, birds, bombycilla cedrorum, cedar waxwings, changing, color, endangered birds, feather color, habitat destruction, habitat for birds, habitat loss, honeysuckle, icteria virens, invasive, invasive plants, invasive species, kentucky warblers, native, native plants, oporornis formosus, plant, species, yellow breasted chats

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