May 13, 2020 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2020

Beware of Burdock

Burdock may be an inconvenience to humans, but it can be a death trap for hummingbirds. Reports of hummingbirds hopelessly snared in burdock burrs aren't frequent, but they are regular each summer.
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The common burdock (Arctium minus) is considered a weed by most people, in part because it is not a native plant, but was brought here from Europe, and now grows wild from coast to coast. Those familiar with the plant, which can grow to six feet, know it mostly because of the tenacious burrs it produces. They are fairly large, spiky, and cling to almost anything they touch. It is how the plant spreads its seeds, but anyone who has walked through a burdock patch has had the experience of trying to detach the pesky burrs without puncturing fingers.

Burdock may be an inconvenience to humans, but it can be a death trap for hummingbirds. Reports of hummingbirds hopelessly snared in burdock burrs aren't frequent, but they are regular each summer.

The problem for the hummingbirds is that they are not strong enough to pull the burrs lose from the plants, and they become trapped, "Velcroed" in place. In thrashing about to free themselves, the birds only become more entangled. If burdock has invaded your yard or property, this is one plant you'd be wise to remove.



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  • That doesn't address my concern about the bird houses. I'm on a tiny piece of property (40x100) so there's not much room to plant a heck of a lot or places birds could put nests once the bird houses are gone.
    by Linda DiPierro, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Plant some native plants in your yard that will attract pollinators and produce berries and nuts. There should be a local society that has a list of recommended plants, shrubs, and trees.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Same concerns here. See above post. For your situation I would consider planting a few native plants that will naturally produce berries and seeds that the birds in your area need to survive. Try planting some that will yield foods for all seasons.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • I've thought about this myself. One thing I considered doing is leaving behind some bird food and a gift card to my local wild bird store with a note asking the new homeowners to please continue feeding the birds. Don't know how well that work but it's worth a try.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • thanks for the article. I believe that I may have spotted my first hairy woodpecker this morning. we see the downy woodpecker often. it's small. the hairy woodpecker, when compared with the downy, is HUGE. also, the downy feeds at the feeder like most birds--standing upright. This bird, because of its size, hung from the feeder perch with most of it's body below the feeder--like the red belly woodpeckers that we see often. we live is strasburg va. is it possible that we saw a hairy woodpecker this morning?
    by PEretired, Sat, 23 May 2020