[Tweeters] Pheasant eating nightshade berries

Wayne C. Weber contopus at telus.net
Tue Sep 27 22:35:03 PDT 2005

Al and Tweeters,

I presume you are referring to European bittersweet or climbing nightshade
(Solanum dulcamara), which is the commonest species of nightshade
in western Washington. It is indeed poisonous (to cattle, sheep, horses,
and pigs as well as to humans) according to various sources. However,
the immature berries are much more poisonous than the mature berries. It
is listed as a noxious plant in King County.

However, the fruit of nightshades are eaten by a wide variety of bird
and have been previously recorded in the diet of pheasants, Bobwhite,
Ruffed Grouse, Scaled Quail, and Wild Turkeys, as well as many
songbirds. (See "American Wildlife and Plants", published 1951, by
Martin, Zim, and Nelson.) Martin et al. do not distinguish between
different species of nightshades in terms of bird use, but they do note
that Solanum dulcamara is one of the main species used. I can find
no evidence that nightshade berries are poisonous to any birds, although
they obviously are to many mammals.

This should not be a big surprise to birders. Fruits of some other plant
species which are poisonous to humans (e.g. poison ivy and poison oak)
are eaten by many bird species with no ill effects.

By the same token, some plants which are edible to humans can be deadly
poisonous to birds. I heard of one person in Vancouver who accidentally
killed his two pet cockatiels by feeding them avocado, which of course is
quite edible to humans.

I'm not sure just what differences there are between the physiology of
humans and of most birds which cause these differences in
tolerance to various chemicals in plants, but clearly there are some
significant differences.

Wayne C. Weber
Delta, BC
contopus at telus.net

----- Original Message -----
From: "Al Wagar" <alwagar at verizon.net>
To: <tweeters at u.washington.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, September 27, 2005 7:13 PM
Subject: [Tweeters] Pheasant eating nightshade berries

In reviewing some video of a nearly-grown pheasant, taken about 10 days ago
at the Montlake Fill, I noticed that it was eating nightshade berries.
Various critters can eat, with impunity, some of the things we can't. But
I'm still a bit amazed at this case.

Al Wagar

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