My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

Staghorn Sumac and Birds

American Robin
American Robin about to feed on Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is a small tree with hairy twigs, hairy leave stalks and hairy fruit. The tree gets its name for the resemblance the branches have with deer’s antlers when the antlers are “in velvet”. The Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants says “American Indians used berries in cough syrups. Berry tea used for lung ailments. Gargled for sore throats and worms. Leaf tea used for sore throats, tonsillitis. Root or bark tea astringent; used for bleeding”. But do note they remind us; “Do not confuse Staghorn Sumac with Poison Sumac”!!!

American Robin American Robin
American Robin feeding on the Staghorn Sumac

This weekend with the heavy snow we received that blanked the ground . . . it forced many of our Robins to forage for food under non-snowy ground cover or on the Sumac trees! I found that Sumac is only eaten by the birds whenever there is nothing else to eat! Not sure if you remember earlier this month me posting this photo below of an American Crow feeding on some sumac. This was a day that we received both heavy snow and freezing rain, which had forced this bird to go after its last resort food!

American Crow and Sumac
American Crow feeding on Sumac

Today while cleaning some bluebird boxes out, I found some sumac scat (from some birds) that reminded me of a blog post I did last year on “Food that helps the bluebirds during a snow storm”. I will summarize the post stating that “My SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) is that this scat is really from the Eastern Bluebirds” and just before that stated “that these seeds gave the birds the runs”! The discussions in this post was very interesting and I will share what Luis M stated “Staghorn Sumac is a natural laxative . . so my guess is that you’re probably right with the “runs” theory!

Bluebirds at Night
Bluebird Sumac Seed Scat in the box

So, if you were hungry and Staghorn Sumac was the last thing available for you to eat . . . would you eat it knowing that you would get the runs? I guess the birds are thinking the same way that we would in this situation (Last Resort Food)!

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30 responses

  1. Tom–I’ve actually eaten sumac berries! They give you a bit of a citrus jolt, not unlike taking a vitamin C tablet, or for that matter, eating a rose hip.

    I don’t think I had enough of them though to effect my entire digestive system. Now if I had eaten a whole bowl full, that may have been different!


    30 March 2008 at 9:15 pm

  2. I feel so sorry for the robins at this time of year. There are small patches of grass along the roadways here where the plows have pushed the snow back. The robins are pecking around in the dirt, but I don’t imagine there is much food there. Last summer’s drought left our mountain ash tree without fruit. The robins always liked it.

    30 March 2008 at 9:57 pm

  3. The Robin in the sumac tree is the first I’ve seen this Spring!! I don’t see Robins here in the desert!!
    Thank you for posting!! sunkissed in Arizona NG

    30 March 2008 at 10:29 pm

  4. I wonder if the laxative properties would hold if you cooked the fruit. Like, say, staghorn sumac pie or oatmeal staghorn sumac cookies.

    30 March 2008 at 10:54 pm

  5. We often have Robins overwinter here and I’ve always wondered what they eat when everything is covered in ice and snow. I don’t see any sumac in the immediate area in town. Is there any bird feed they would eat out of a feeder? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Robin at my feeders, just in the garden for worms.

    30 March 2008 at 11:09 pm

  6. @ Tom – I have chewed on them also but only one or two at a time! But never tried rose hips! Thanks
    @ Ruth – they do much better than the phoebes! Our snow storm last april did a big number on last years Phoebes!
    @ Naturegirl – The desert get great birds, enjoy the times you have there!
    @ John – not sure but they are about 98% seed! I would love to try an Staghorn Sumac Oatmeal Cookie! Hmm
    @ Linda – We do have them from time to time over winter here! I think when the snow gets deep they head south again! Thanks!

    30 March 2008 at 11:31 pm

  7. This is pretty interesting – I never considered what the birds ate when the ice and snow is bad. I guess in my Utopian mind I thought they were tucked tightly in the fir trees munching on the seeds left in the pine cones. Hummm… I would not bet my mortgage on it tho. 🙂 very fascinating read Tom. p.s. I don’t think I would eat any kind of sumac (over here I’ve only seen the poisonous kind… your birds are braver than I!)

    31 March 2008 at 2:36 am

  8. Thank you for the informative post. I like when I learned something I didn’t know before. Now if you will excuse me, I think I need to go use the potty;)

    31 March 2008 at 5:08 am

  9. Sumac – good for cleaning out bird intestines – cool! Except for you that has to clean the boxes out, eww!

    31 March 2008 at 7:08 am

  10. Oh, I suppose Survivor Man would eat it, but then again, he’ll eat anything…lol. Guess he’s not tried this as he does have a show to tape. :c)

    31 March 2008 at 7:38 am

  11. Lisa at Greenbow

    I would love to get some staghorn sumac growing in the side lot. Not only is it good for birds I think it is sculptural looking during winter and very tropical looking during summer. A person could have a tropical looking garden with some of these in it.

    31 March 2008 at 8:09 am

  12. It’s good that robins and crows don’t have taste buds. Although sumac may seem less apealing to them.

    31 March 2008 at 8:11 am

  13. I’ve tried the berry tea, but it wasn’t good enough to make me want it again! 🙂 Plus you had to strain out a lot of bugs LOL.

    31 March 2008 at 8:40 am

  14. Those first pix with the browns of all sorts – very nice. And robins and sumac mix nicely together – in photos. Maybe not digestively.

    31 March 2008 at 10:20 am

  15. I don’t think we have staghorn sumac down here & I have to say, I miss the beautiful red of it in the Fall. Ah well, guess I’ve traded them in for warmth, which is still good.

    31 March 2008 at 10:21 am

  16. We had a staghorn sumac in the garden at our old house. I didn’t see any birds eating the fruit but the squirrels seemed to love it!

    31 March 2008 at 11:13 am

  17. I always wondered what that stuff was – thanks for letting me know.

    31 March 2008 at 11:42 am

  18. This is a neat post! I learned something new. Now I imagine the OLD birds need some Sumac to keep them regular – haha. I remember my daughter making sumac lemonade at a summer camp. Guess it’s only the seeds that give one the ‘runs’. 😉
    Nice shots!

    31 March 2008 at 1:44 pm

  19. I think somewhere on the globe they dry sumac berries and make a spice from it. I think it’s in the Middle East and I’m having a brain fart right now trying to think of what they call it.

    Great pics and great info about a special plant!

    31 March 2008 at 2:42 pm

  20. I don’t think I will try it anytime soon. Thanks for some interesting education!

    31 March 2008 at 3:13 pm

  21. Staghorn sumac is everywhere up here in Maine. I’m glad the birds can make use of it — it’s native, but really is kind of a weedy-looking tree.

    Strangely enough, as the snow receded from my yard (103″ this winter) I saw piles of worm castings across the lawn. Really looks like the ground hasn’t been hard-frozen for some time, if the worms were able to work it that much.

    31 March 2008 at 3:54 pm

  22. I concur that this is a very fascinating post (and I LMAO at “SWAT”). 😀
    I’ve always wondered if the birds ate Staghorn sumac. I’m sure I would eat it if I was hungry enough!

    31 March 2008 at 6:32 pm

  23. @ aullori – thanks and I have never seen the poison kind!
    @ Vern – thanks and you are excused! LOL
    @ Pam – thanks and its worth every second of cleaning out!
    @ jayne – thanks and hope survivor man gets to try it!
    @ Lisa – actually it can be considered an invasive species! You might be able to find a few other species that might do the same job!
    @ Samuel – thanks and actually Sumac taste good!
    @ Rurality – really? Sorry about working out the protein
    @ Barbara – You are very kind! Thanks
    @ Lana – I would trade them for the warmth anyday! Thanks
    @ Sherri – I bet a few things would feed on it! Even the squirrels, thanks
    @ Marty – I am always trying to come up with learning something here!
    @ Bird Girl – thanks and it probably depends on how much you use or if it was boiled or not!
    @ Patrick – it does have a tinge to it! Thanks
    @ Sherry/Zoo – thanks and glad you enjoyed!
    @ firefly – they do make use but they probably would prefer something else if given a chance! Shouldn’t be long before our worms return!
    @ Lisa – thanks and still a last resort food for them!

    31 March 2008 at 7:42 pm

  24. I’ve had a iced herbal tea concoction that featured sumac berries. It was supposed to be refreshing. Mostly it tasted like weak honey with a hint of citrus.
    If I remember right, it was called a “Shrub”. I think the birds have the correct approach: Leave the sumac berries until last when you don’t have anything else.

    1 April 2008 at 3:20 am

  25. Marg

    Ugh now I know why they are a last resort food!

    1 April 2008 at 4:28 am

  26. lvn600

    I always heard that it was a last resort food for the birds but now I know why!

    3 April 2008 at 8:53 pm

  27. From the original 5 staghorn sumac I planted about 8 years ago, I now have a huge, naturalized thicket. I love these plants! Thanks for more information, Mon@rch.
    I sometimes see bluejays and crows perched on it and I think cedar waxwings nested in there a couple summers ago.

    3 April 2008 at 10:43 pm

  28. rockgirl41

    i have just discovered the staghorn sumac or rhus typhina, and i love it however i don’t know much about it and thanks to you all i have a better understanding of this cool tree…shurb? are the birds eating this because it is a fruit or is it a seed? i am confused on the fruit statement it doesn’t appear to be very fruity. Fruit or seeds that is the question!

    18 September 2008 at 11:08 pm

  29. Anonymous

    Actually it’s quite nice to suck on – but you can’t swallow it, which is annoying. Also break them open before trying to eat them since they can contain insects 😛

    19 December 2009 at 1:02 am

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