Posted in Birds, Plants and trees

Cardinal eating poison ivy berries

In an earlier post on poison ivy, we noted that birds are untroubled by poison ivy. In fact the vine’s berries are an important food source during the cold, winter months. According to an article by Penn State University (linked at the end of this post), over 60 species of bird have been observed eating poison ivy berries. While out for a walk I recently noticed a northern cardinal feasting on them.

Cardinal snacking on poison ivy berries.


“Yummy poison ivy.”

I’m seeing a lot of poison ivy berries this time of year. You might not recognize them because the vine has dropped its leaves by now. Nonetheless the plant’s nasty oil (urushiol) is still present and can rub off onto people who touch the vine or berries.

Poison ivy berries hanging from the leafless vine

In fact around there seems to be a bumper crop of berries this year.

Lots and lots of poison ivy berries

There are a couple of mnemonics for recognizing the plant from its berries. One is "White berries, run in fright!" The other is "White berries, danger in sight!"

I’ll close out with a photo of a juvenile, male cardinal. Hopefully he will learn to take advantage of this winter food.

The brown mixed in with his red feathers indicates that this is a juvenile.




Additional information
  • TrekOhio: Poison Ivy & Poison Sumac — Provides lots of information to help you recognize these plants.
  • Penn State New Kensington: Poison Ivy — This article indicates that at least 60 species of birds eat poison ivy berries.

More on Birds

© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and TrekOhio.com 2012 to 2018


5 thoughts on “Cardinal eating poison ivy berries

  1. I just heard the berries are poisonous. So far been lucky to avoid contact. We do not have cardinals here in the west unless a stray wanders into the territory, so it is nice to see these birds in your blog.

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