Category Archives: Toxicity

Nandina Warning

Cedar Waxwings eating Crabapples in January

Cedar Waxwings in January eating Crabapples, a safe food

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.

someone responded:

…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.

Nandina Berries - photo: James H. Miller USDA, Forest Service

Nandina Berries – photo: James H. Miller
USDA, Forest Service

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.

[1]  UGA, College of Veterinary Medicine: Toxicity Due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings
[2]  Wikipedia: Nandina – Toxicity
[3]  Audubon Arkansas: Nandina berries are toxic to birds and other animals

Goodness Snakes

Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snake – non-venomous

Or, in the spirit of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Goodness! Snakes.  We call this little guy ‘Skimmer’ and he lives in and around our pond.  He’s an Eastern Garter snake and harmless to humans.

We’re well into spring and with warmer weather more snakes will be visible.  We think snakes are terrific and always feel lucky to see one in our yard or neighborhood.

Pantherophis alleghaniensis

Eastern Ratsnake – non-venomous

“Terrific? ” you say.  We say “yes”, because:

  • They are beautiful
  • Biologically they are fascinating since they move without limbs
  • They benefit our gardens by eating pests such as slugs, crickets, voles and rats
  • Snakes are food for others: hawks, owls, raccoons and other snakes

But some snakes can be dangerous so we consulted our friend and local snake expert, Robert Hill.  He gave us great information and permission to use some of his beautiful photos.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

    • There are approximately 30 species of snakes in and around Atlanta, only 4 of which are venomous and the rest are non-venomous.
    • The two harmless snakes most commonly misidentified as venomous in Peachtree Park are Dekay’s Brown Snake and Northern Watersnake.
  • In Peachtree Park , the only venomous snake we are likely to find is the Copperhead so it’s a good idea to learn to identify them.
  • Most bites result from attempts to catch, handle, kill or otherwise harass snakes.
  • Fewer than a dozen people in the entire United States die from snake bites each year.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.49.11 AMThis quote is credited to Clifford H. Pope, a noted American herpetologist and native son of Georgia.

See our Snakes page, which has more photos and information on snakes.  There are also additional references and a wonderful poster on venomous snakebites.

If you see a snake, be kind, and give him some room.