You know how important food sources are to birds, especially in the winter and early spring. If you’re like us, you have Nandina in your yard and it produces wonderful red berries that last through the cold months. You’re feeling good about that because you have a plant that provides food in the winter. But watch out, these berries are poisonous!
GABO – Georgia Birders Online is a wonderful resource for up to date information on birds in Georgia. This past Saturday we saw the following post:
My family and I came across a gruesome site of a flock of dead cedar waxwings in front of Decatur High school this evening. I wasn’t sure of the total but it seemed like over a dozen birds dead within a small area of a few yards. No power lines or glass windows within the area.
…no way of knowing what they died from. I’ve heard the case of the Nandina poisoning though I never thought it sounded like solid proof.
We had heard rumors about Nandina poisoning too but didn’t realize that they were true.
Steve Holzman, president of the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS), is following up with the folks at UGA to ask if they will look at one of the birds and render an opinion on the cause of death since there are other possibilities, such as poisoning via insecticides. When the findings are available, we’ll follow up on this site.
In the meantime, we did a little homework and found out that Nandinas (often called Sacred or Heavenly Bamboo) are indeed very poisonous, especially when ingested in large quantities, which Cedar Waxwings certainly do as they are passing through and refueling for their journey. The berries contain cyanide and other alkaloids that produce highly toxic hydrogen cyanide which is extremely poisonous.
We’ve provided links to some information below on Nandina toxicity to birds as well as other animals including pets. In the meantime, please consider the following:
- Remove any Nandinas from your yard and replace them with native plants or others that provide safe food sources. (We’re working on our Native Plants information and should have it completed soon.)
- If you can’t remove the plants right away, please remove ALL of the berries before they turn red.
- Tell others about this. It’s counter-intuitive because the berries look like they would be perfect bird food.
- Encourage your local suppliers and landscapers not to carry these plants.
 UGA, College of Veterinary Medicine: Toxicity Due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings
 Wikipedia: Nandina – Toxicity
 Audubon Arkansas: Nandina berries are toxic to birds and other animals