Aug 21, 2019 | Featured Web Article

How Do Birds Use Cones?

Planting conifers in your yard helps provide shelter, food, nesting sites, and nest-building materials to a diversity of species that rely on these trees for survival. Crossbills, nutcrackers, and several other birds are serious cone seed eaters.
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Did you know that conifers don't produce crops of cones every year? In fact, they may produce only a few cones over the course of more than a year and may go some years without producing any cones at all. A particularly robust growing season might come along once every 10 years, which can be an unexpected asset to bird species that depend on cones for food and other uses.

Planting conifers in your yard helps provide shelter, food, nesting sites, and nest-building materials to a diversity of species that rely on these trees for survival. Crossbills, nutcrackers, and several other birds are serious cone seed eaters. Other species such as robins and Townsend's solitaires will swallow juniper cones whole. Kinglets, flycatchers, pewees, and hummingbirds often build their nests over a cluster of cones, matching the nest shape and color to their coniferous foundation. A few species select soft and tiny cones to incorporate into their nest lining. Some cavity-nesting birds sometimes scavenge cone scales to use for their homes, choosing pieces that squirrels discard after they've eaten the seeds they contain.

If you're curious about how different conifers benefit birds or are wondering about cone identification in general, we've rounded up a selection of common cones for your consideration.

The cone of a white pine tree.

Pine Cones

These cones have thick, rigid scales that often end with a prickly point. Most pine species take two growing seasons to produce a generation of cones. Pine cones can stay on their trees for years, and there may be many generations on one tree at the same time.

Cones of a Norway spruce tree.

Spruce Cones

Spruce cone scales are flexible, papery, and, unlike pine cones, do not have sharp points. The cones hang down as they develop over the course of their growing season, open in the autumn months, and may detach to drop to the ground during their first winter.

Cones of a Douglas fir tree.

Fir Cones

Fir cones have scales that are notably resinous, not prickly, and often feature saturated shades of maroon, indigo, or purple. These cones develop upright over the course of one growing season. After they reach maturity, fir cones shed their scales to disperse their seeds.

Cones of Rocky Mountain juniper.

Juniper Cones

These cones feature scales that are thick, resinous, held tightly together, and often tipped with horn-style points. You'll find them in shades of blue, green, or coppery brown. It takes a single growing season for juniper cones to reach maturity, but they can live on their trees for multiple years. Junipers rely primarily on birds to disperse their seeds.

Cones of a bald cypress tree.

Bald-cypress Cones

These round cones feature woody scales that are pressed together to create a patchwork effect. The cones take one year to reach maturity. It's thought that bald-cypress seeds were once an important part of the Carolina parakeet's wintertime diet.





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  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021