Holly and ivy provide fodder for winter visitors
By David Wright, Biodiversity Warden with DEFA
During the winter, the Isle of Man plays host to hundreds of migrating birds which come here to feed on the Island’s abundant food supplies.
Thrushes such as blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares arrive from Scandinavia during the autumn, to escape the harsh winter. They find abundant food in the pastures and hedgerows, and soon strip all the berries off the bushes.
One of our most popular Christmas carols, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, tells of the red berries and green foliage of both plants at this time of year. In fact, the carol is thought to date from pagan times when both plants were at their most colourful in the dark days of December. To this day, red and green are the most traditional Christmas colours too.
Ivy is one of our truly native British species. The late-ripening berries provide food for birds in December and January, at a time when other species such as hawthorn and rowan are bare of food. Blackbirds can strip bushes in just a few days.
According to the RSPB, ivy berries contain as many calories as a Mars bar.
In ancient times, holly berries were also known to be used as a hangover cure, which might also have been associated with Christmas. But that isn’t advised these days...
Holly trees also grow abundantly in many gardens, and are also found in many of the Island’s conifer plantations. Being evergreen, they provide colour with foliage and berries when most other trees are bare and brown.
As well as being used in Christmas garlands, they also provide food for thrushes, as the red berries ripen. Both holly and ivy give shelter to birds, too, and are often used as places to roost at night, the foliage sheltering the birds from the wind and rain.
The Island can also attract rarer visitors, particularly if cold easterly winds push birds west and this is when the colourful, charismatic waxwings are most frequently seen. They prefer to feed on the berries of ornamental shrubs such as Pyracantha and Cotoneaster. They can often be found around supermarket car parks and in gardens where these trees are planted.
On the Island, the trees planted around Ramsey Bakery have proved a magnet in recent years. These amazing looking birds always attract an appreciative crowd, and their rarity adds to their attraction.
So during the festive season, take time to look at the evergreen trees and fruit bearing shrubs in the garden. It can be a ‘wonderful time of the year’.