Country diary: feeding birds paint the woods white

Heaton Woods, West Yorkshire: The poo of hungry wood pigeons, blackbirds and song thrushes is vital to the propagation of wild cherry trees

The whiskery leaves of the nettles, the out-of-hand brambles, the stale summer green of the crowding hawthorn, the new branches of the young beech and linden trees – they all look as though someone has been careless with a bucket of whitewash. The reason isn’t hard to figure out. As I stand here at the edge of the woods, knee-deep in the understorey, a male blackbird up above adds another damp ovoid daub to the monochrome Jackson Pollock effect. What goes in must come out. Cherry season has begun, and I’m in birdshit central.

The poo of hungry birds is vitally important to the propagation of the wild cherry tree (its scientific name, Prunus avium, acknowledges as much). A German study in 2007 found that 17 species were involved in the distribution of the tree’s seeds – each cleverly smuggled within an eye-catching gobbet of sweet pulp. Blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes, jays, woodpeckers and wood pigeons, among others, were joined by migrants on a calorie-loading mission: blackcaps, whitethroats and garden warblers.

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