Crabapples and birds

newjerseyteaFebruary 15, 2004

In spite of what is promulgated on TV, I don't see the birds eating my crabapples. I do understand that the hummers like the flowers in the spring, however.

My question: do any birds eat crabapples or have I planted this only for the hummers, which would still be a good thing.

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jillmcm(z6 PA)

I think mockingbirds will eat crabapples and so will many small mammals. Orioles and warblers are definitely attracted to the flowers for nectar and small bugs in the spring. We had lots of both, especially yellow-rumped warblers, on our crab in ND. The bugs attracted to the flowers and fruit are probably very attractive to many birds as well. There's another thread somewhere on here that talks about how the birds are most attracted to small fruit.

Depending on the type of crab you have, you can make an apple jelly from the crab apples. Kind of a pain in the butt to make, but very tart and tasty.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2004 at 9:40PM
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Small (about 3/8 inch) apples will be eaten quickly. One can't expect birds to eat the big ones. They generally fall and rot.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2004 at 11:16PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

I am very surprised, newjerseytea, that you have no bird customers in you crabapple tree! Or it is a new bloomer, that the birds haven't discovered yet in the winter...
We have had a crabapple with 3/4 in. to a good 1 in. fruits, so NOT the kind one would normally recommend to get the most species. And we have had Cardinals, Pine Grosbeaks, Robins (in some of those bad springs) as well as both sp. of Waxwings (almost simultaneously, and by the hundreds!) come and seriously nib at the apples in the winter.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 8:21AM
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You could have the answer, Roseunhip - they just haven't found it yet. The variety is, I think, Prairie Fire, and the fruits are small.

Come to think of it, the birds didn't find the serviceberry or the gray dogwoods planted last year, all of which had berries on them. Maybe it just takes some time.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 8:49AM
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Is that a native crab? And where did you buy it? I am looking for a pair of native crabs and native cherry/plum's to plant this spring! Sarah

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 10:11AM
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Crabapples often remain on the tree until spring, when a flock of waxwings arrives and devours them all at once.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 1:59PM
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I know Robins like crabapples. A few days after we moved into our house, years ago, I looked outside & saw a juvenile Robin in the crabapple tree. I've also seen jays, chickadees, and titmice feeding off the buds.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 2:41PM
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Correct me if I'm wrong (and I probably am), I don't think crabapples are native. I don't think they are invasive either however. I'll just wait to see what the experts have to say on this though.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 4:43PM
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aka_peggy(Central Md 6b)

One of the most exciting bird sightings I've ever experienced was 8 cedar waxwings sitting side by side on a branch in my crabapple tree.

Vonyon, there are a few native crabs but I forget which ones.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 6:13PM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

Malus coronaria and M. ioensis are native to the east and midwest. M. angustifolia is native to the southeast and M. fusca is native to the west coast. Most crabapples are not terribly invasive but a few introduced species do escape from time to time. I have a number of seedlings come up in the backyard about 200 feet from a red flowering crab (don't know the cultivar). The domestic apple is naturalized in many parts of the county and hybridizes with native crabs. It follows, since the domestic apple is composed of these four species, that Malus sylvestris, M. pumila, M. dasyphylla and M. sieversii are all naturalized in some form.

If I wanted little "crabapples" for the birds to eat I would plant hawthorns instead. Great late winter food source. For hummingbirds a red buckeye. Are they ever promoted on TV?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 4:06AM
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Thanks for the info Lycopus. You pose an interesting question......why is it that native trees and shrubs are never promoted on television or at nurseries? Why is the info so hard to come by?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 8:45AM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

Lycopus - my understanding is that hawthorns are actually very invasive in many parts of the country. I also thought that it was very difficult to tell native and non-natives apart, given that they hybridize rapidly. So hawthorns look like they would need some serious research before planting.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 8:48AM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

Cockspur (Crataegus crus-galli), washington (C. phaenopyrum), downy (C. mollis), and green hawthorn (C. viridis) are native to most of the east so at least in that part of the country invasiveness should not be a problem. These, excluding downy hawthorn, are the most common species sold in nurseries. For other parts of the country one could consult the maps for the genus Crataegus in the USDA Plants database. Most hybrids are polyploid and are either sterile or apomicts, and often mistaken for viable species. That's my understanding at least...I have not delved much into this genus since there is a lot of conflicting information on it.

I don't know why information on natives is hard to come by in the mainstream. I suppose certain plants are difficult to propagate so they are not recommended because the suppliers can't produce enough of them. Prairie plants tend to be easy to produce but they are largely ignored. Most gardening books are written by people in the east for shady gardens and people out here, despite having no shade at all (I suspect many are dendrophobic), insist on trying to grow woodland plants out in the open. Native nurseries tend to be small but there are a growing number of them these days.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plants

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 9:46AM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

My tentative 2 cents on why native plants are not promoted... Could it be that since natives are generally more resistant and thus require less spending on pest control, winter protections, etc., not to mention spending on replacement plants itself having been lost to climate extremes, they would very simply be less profitable to the nursery and gardening business?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 1:43PM
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Rose: It has to be something to do with money. I am wondering why some environmental organization hasn't lobbied to force nurseries to mark their non-native plants? As a naive consumer, I purchased a lot of things that I wouldn't have now if I had known better when I had bought them. If they had a label on them, I might have looked into it sooner.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 2:45PM
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Species are cheap. Hybrids are expensive. Growers and nurseries make much more money on hybrids and exotic varieties, so that's what they sell. Same as expensive prescriptions drugs--companies promote Vioxx even though plain old OTC ibuprofin is just as effective and infinitely cheaper.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 3:27PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

I think a lot of it has to do with "familiarity breeds contempt" - if you look at European gardens, you see lots of North American natives there that are virtually ignored here - while a lot of our imports from overseas are not considered desirable in their native ranges. Everybody is always looking for the newest, latest thing and overlooking the beauty in their own backyards.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 7:00PM
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I knew it had to do with money. I also think you are right Jill. I think we all like the exotic for vacations, etc. I just wish the message were more available to people and then they would see the options that are out there. I also believe that most people are just ignorant of the problem.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 7:31PM
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I read on the Pennsylvania birding forum about a rufous hummingbird in Harrisburg eating rotten apples from an apple tree probably the bugs too here is the post Tue, 16 Dec 2003 11:45:54 -0500
Reply-To: Scott Weidensaul
Sender: Bird discussion list for Pennsylvania
From: Scott Weidensaul
Subject: Rufous hummingbird, Dauphin Co.
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" ; format="flowed"
This morning I banded an adult female rufous hummingbird at a home
in Middletown, southern Dauphin County, the fifth rufous I've banded
in the state this season, out of about 12 late-season hummingbirds
I've heard reported.

The hummer has apparently been present since earlier this fall, but
because the homeowner is not a serious birder, word of it just came
out this week. The homeowner, Glenn Hicks Jr., is happy to have
visitors if they call first (717-944-6710); he's on Woodland Avenue
just off Vine Street. The usual caveats apply -- please call during
reasonable hours, and don't block the road or neighboring driveways.
The feeder is hanging at the end of a breezeway, and is visible from
the street.

The hummer buzzed in while my subpermittee Jan Getgood and I were
setting up the cage trap, though she took her time to investigate
everything before going in a few minutes later. Interestingly, she
was also feeding heavily in an apple tree just behind the house,
which still had a lot of mushy, brownish apples hanging from its

Jan noticed the bird was both probing into the apples themselves,
and appeared to be picking around the upper surfaces. My guess is the
apples provided a two-fer -- sugary liquid akin to nectar inside the
skin, and insects attracted to the rotting fruit. (There are a lot of
tiny arthropods that remain active and available even in cold
weather, and which make up a lot of the diet of these winter
hummingbirds.) But I can find no mention in a quick check of the
scientific literature about rufous hummers feeding on rotting fruit,
and will have to look into this further -- it may be a more unusual
observation that I first thought.

Once she was banded we gave her a long drink of sugar water, and
she was back at the feeder within about 15 minutes of her release,
and has been back since we left.

Scott Weidensaul
Schuylkill Haven, Pa.

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I don't know why native malus and prunus are so hard to find at local nurseries. I do know they are available from musser forest and Forest Farms and Pine Ridge Gardens but I am sure they are pretty small. I am still going to look around locally for larger plants. Sarah

    Bookmark   February 18, 2004 at 9:36AM
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I planted a crabapple tree in my yard about 3 years ago. It hasn't died, but it hasn't grown either and it's never flowered. I'm wondering if it's too hot down here. I planted a lemon tree last year and I had 25 lemons on it this past October. I'm hoping to get some fruit from my orange and grapefruit trees this year. I normally have pretty good luck with plants/trees--am I doing something wrong with my crabapple? I planted it where it gets dappled shade.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2004 at 4:40PM
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I don't know, Did you buy it locally? If it's not dead that's a good sign. Maybe you should go back to where you bought it and ask them ? Sarah

    Bookmark   March 2, 2004 at 6:14PM
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Jonesy(z6 midwest)

There is a very large crab apple tree near where we walk. I saw some on the ground that had been opened and the seeds gone from the center. I was told by the nursery man that birds will eat the red berries on my washington hawthorne, but the don't. They cut the berries open and eat the seeds. They do the same to my bradford pear's fruit. They don't eat enough to make it worthwhile to plant for the birds.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2004 at 7:59PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

Some birds will eat the flesh, some other species the seeds / pit. For instance Evening grosbeaks prefer the seeds, I think.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2004 at 9:37AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

This past Winter I saw Cardinals and White Throated Sparrows eating the Crabapples on my tree.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2004 at 6:35PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

The Indian Magic Crabapple in my yard sure did look stunning in bloom. The flowers are large and opened a deep crimson red. The color of the blooms faded as the flowers go older. Now to wait for little crab apples to form!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2004 at 12:05PM
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I bet the hummers were all over it! I noticed all the tulip poplars are in bloom now so I haven't seen any hummingbirds since Friday and then only one . They seem to dissapear when the tulip poplars and red buckeyes are in bloom. Sarah

    Bookmark   May 16, 2004 at 3:59PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

I never noticed any Hummers feeding on the blossoms but I have noticed Hummers feeding on the Cherry tree Blossoms in the past so I guess they should like crab apple blossoms.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2004 at 7:06PM
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Have a pair of robins that come everyday around 11 am
and eat one crab apple each day before flying off.
It is a weeping Red Jade Crab. So nice to see them. But it cold here now, upstate NY .

    Bookmark   January 22, 2005 at 10:32PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

My Crabapple Bloomed like crazy this spring, so much , much more than last year. I guess it was just getting itself established last year so few flowers. I am looking forward to lots of little tiny apples for the birds to eat come winter.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 3:50PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

In 2006 I planted a SugarTime Crabapple and last fall I finially got the three small crabapples planted that I bought last spring. Got those three from SongSparrow nursery by mail order just because they looked like good ones. One of them is a pink flowered Sargents type crab.

The Sugartime Crabapple really makes lots and lots of fruit but so far its still there and no one has eaten it.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2008 at 10:56PM
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