Fragile Armor

The dog and I frequently send birds flying for cover when we return from our walks. The other morning it was tiny Black-capped Chickadees. I stood on the sidewalk and watched one disappear into the tall Oregon Grape beside the porch and the skin on my arms began to itch in sympathy.

Just a few months ago, that plant was bent to the ground under a thick coat of icy snow. I grabbed on to the various branches to shake them off freeing the plant of its burden so it stood upright again. For my  pains, I ended up with a itchy welts that lasted into the next day.

Pojar’s description of the plant includes the phrase “several prominent spiny teeth” in the section on the foliage. What they don’t say is that those are puppy teeth. They easily penetrated winter jacket, fleece and the leather palms of my gloves. Yet now this little bird flitted about within the branches of the same plant, it’s fragile feathers a better match for the prickly leaves than all my heavy winter clothing.

Trees and shrubs are a vital part of wildlife habitat. The larger trees provide nest sites for birds and perches with a view. Vines, shrubs and lower tree branches provide quick cover. Deciduous trees make adequate places to raise young because they are leafed during the breeding seasons, but only evergreen plants provide cover year round.

If you are lucky someone planted a Cedar or Douglas-fir decades ago either on your property or in close proximity. Two large cedars tower over the alley behind my yard and  two more evergreens stand sentinel out front. All of them grew tall enough to provide adequate space for modern fences and driveways or parking beneath them. Planting such a tree today would be virtually impossible.

None of these trees are close enough to provide immediate cover for birds feeding in my yard. One of the reasons I selected Oregon grape to plant is to serve this purpose. My labrador, who has stuck her nose into the entry of the bee hives more than once, only attempted to get up close to this plant once. It deters typical urban predators such as cats and raccoons as well as the larger birds. I have never seen a crow perched on the plant.

For its benefit to the little birds, for its cheery spring color and for its fruit it is one of my favorite native plants. I just dread the chore of weeding near it. I had been thinking that only armor would protect me but maybe what I need is a suit of feathers.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Plants, Urban gardens, Wildlife

One Comment on “Fragile Armor”


  1. Aw, this was a very nice post. In concept I would like to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and precise effort to make an excellent article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and not at all seem to get something done.


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