Top Photo: The red fruit and evergreen leaves of Ilex.

Ilex is a genus of largely evergreen flowering plants which are very familiar to most people. Some Ilex have spiked leaves but, surprisingly, most varieties do not. After spring and summer pollination of their tiny white flowers, the plants produce red berries, more correctly called drupes, which persist throughout the fall and winter.


The plants in the genus Ilex are more commonly known as hollies. The native holly, American holly (Ilex opaca) grows naturally throughout our area. But there are many other varieties and cultivars planted in numerous locations across the state. The one thing they all have in common is, they all produce bright red fruit, which native birds like to eat.

Northern mockingbird on watch from within tree.

If you have a holly in your yard it may very well be watched over by a northern mockingbird. Mockingbirds are year round residents. They stake out a claim on a food rich source early in the season and defend it against all comers. It’s not an easy task.

American robin taking a share.
Winter visitor hermit thrush.

There are many other birds looking for a free meal in the winter landscape. Wandering bands of cedar waxwings, American robins, even the “local” winter resident hermit thrush try to get as many of the red fruit as they can when the mocker’s not looking, which is rare.

Cedar waxwings descend on holly.
Cedar waxwing with holly “berry.”

It’s not uncommon to see waxwings drop in on a tree being guarded by a mockingbird. Protest as he or she might, even dive-bombing on the intruders, the waxwings usually clean up on the fruit before leaving the mocker frustrated.

An anxious mockingbird.

We have many hollies on our outdoor loop, and though the winter has just begun, there are already a few anxious mockers patrolling the area.

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