If the Birds Eat It- It's Got To Be Safe For People!


Somewhere I heard that statement bantered around and like many other truisms expounded by my loving parents, learned teachers, devoted church school teachers, and trustworthy scout masters, it planted itself as indelibly in my brain as if it were a scriptural truth - and if it weren't a scriptural truth, it ought to be for none of these loyal leaders would tell anything that was wrong. Thus with such fine inspirational leaders, I abandoned caution and attacked the challenges of life much the same as a new crop of weeds tenaciously attacks a new plowed garden plot! Then suddenly these bits of wisdom had new rays of scientific light cast on them and my well planted truths were uprooted, or at least challenged by those hoes of truth and knowledge.

Recently one such experience caused me to shake the dirt off the roots of that statement, and for my birds' sake, I am sure that the greens that I feed my birds tomorrow will have been fertilized with today's experiences. 

A young friend and I were enjoying each others companionship while we walked the banks of a small creek and knocked over the tall weeds so we could get to the small pebbles and splash them in the water. We sat in the shade of a small tree near a puddle of water and watched the numerous tadpoles that had very recently been a glob of frog eggs. l must admit that for just a moment l wished that my birds could produce that fast' Then my dreams were suddenly drawn back to reality by the breeze tickling my leg with a giant dandelion leaf. I picked it and added it to those we had already picked to feed to the birds. My young friend who is not familiar with birds or what they eat spied a group of lush leaves and picked them to add to his supply of bird feed. The milky sap began to flow from the stem. The birds would surely have eaten those leaves either out of trust in the judgement of their feeder or more probably because they have no other greens available. But then, what difference does it make for .. if the birds eat it, its got to be safe". Right? Wrong'

Consider that lush group of leaves that had been picked. It was only a poke weed. And even my old scoutmaster has said that poke was edible. I suppose he also said that it required careful cooking, but like many young people l hadn · t remembered that small part. Now. I know that the new green leaves can be very carefully prepared. but that they can also be quite toxic if not carefully prepared. Euell Gibbon's guidebooks provide the necessary precautions. But just to be safe, l' II pass the poke. Now, after a little more cautious study, I find that carefully prepared leaves are in fact edible, but not the roots and berries. But then, who would feed them to their birds?

As a result of this food gathering event, I read a couple of articles on edible and non-edible weeds. l find that there are more than 700 poisonous plants in the Americas. Many of these are along the streams. highways, alleys and yard fences where bird fanciers have been encouraged to gather greens for their birds. One contemporary aviculturist has written that the pollution from the automobile exhausts that is absorbed by or that falls on the leaves of the roadside weeds are not harmful to the birds. Pollutants may not kill the birds, at least not as fast as some of the plants themselves.

So much for poke.

I remember a hog we had. After my mother had prepared a fine strawberryrhubard pie, I fed the slop- including the rhubard leaves - to the hog. Yes. I remember a hog we had 1 That hog had at least been smart enough to avoid the thorn apple or jimson weed whose wide green leaves might easily have attracted anyone who believed the truism "the darker green the leaves. the better for the birds". This dark green leafed plant with the large white flowers has an equally colorful history which extends into the preRevolutionary War days in Jamestown. Virginia, when the British Troops were attempting to control Bacon's Rebellion. The British Soldiers cleaned and cooked the leaves of the DATU RA for greens and found that they had intoxicating effects. This news of the Jamestown weed and its effect quickly spread to other areas and the name was soon corrupted to jimson. Cautious research proves that the toxins of this plant can cause insanity. stupor and death. In fact, it was used by the South American Chibcha Indians to sedate their human sacrifices!

But back to home again where plant poisoning ranks third in poisoning our children in their homes. (Drugs and cleaning agents rank first and second.) One doe not have to be alerted only to the toxic plants in the fields. barnyards, and other.....