Be Your Own Birder

The Flavor of Summer – and Birds!

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It seems we eat our way through the year – from the savory stews and rich spices of autumn and winter, to fresh spring berries and delicate herbs, to tangy treats and bold barbecue in summer. For me, there’s no flavor more deliciously designed for summer than lemon. But did you know there are lemon birds to enjoy as well?

Lemon-Rumped Tanager - Photo by Lip Kee Yap
Lemon-Rumped Tanager – Photo by Lip Kee Yap

Lemon Deliciousness

The lemon fruit (Citrus limon) comes in several varieties and is cultivated all over the world from China and India to Europe, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and the United States. The characteristic “sourness” of the lemon is due to citric acid, and varies depending on the lemon variety, any hybridization in the fruit, the growing conditions where it is cultivated, and an individual fruit’s ripeness. Lemons are high in Vitamin C and also provide some fiber and potassium, along with a number of antioxidants.

Lemons are used in many foods, from cakes, pies, cookies, tarts, candies, and other desserts to marinades and sauces for meat, fish, and poultry, as well as in drinks and other flavorings. Lemon juice and zest are often used for flavorings as well, and there are always new delicious treats to try with this amazing fruit. My favorites are all manner of lemon desserts, as well as cool, sweet lemonade on a hot summer’s day. I adore lemon gelato and sampled eye-burning limoncello in Sorrento, Italy, where that potent liqueur was first created.

Lemon Chiffon Pie - Photo by Kurman Communications, Inc.
Lemon Chiffon Pie – Photo by Kurman Communications, Inc.

Outside of appetizing eating, lemon is also popular in aromatherapy and essential oil uses, such as in hand sanitizer, scented candles, wax melts, and other sensory delights. But lemon goes well beyond just food and aromas – it can even be found in birds.

Lemon Birds

There are many, many yellow birds found throughout the world, and in fact, yellow is a very common plumage color, not just for overall coloration like the yellow warbler, but also as a brilliant patch of color on many different species. Just a dozen birds, however, are privileged to bear the word “lemon” in their name, and many of them showcase their lemon-inspired coloration with pride.

Lemon-Bellied Flyrobin - Photo by Graham Winterflood
Lemon-Bellied Flyrobin – Photo by Graham Winterflood

The lemon-rumped tanager (Ramphocelus icteronotus), for example, has a sharp, bold patch of the brightest lemon yellow on its rump, which provides a tangy contrast to its otherwise solid black plumage. The lemon-spectacled tanager (Habia olivacea), has bold yellow eye-rings and a thick yellow bar across its brow to complete its colorful eyeglass accessories, while the lemon-throated barbet (Eubucco richardsoni) has a creamier lemon-sherbet throat blended with equally delicious orange accents. Among other lemony birds are the lemon-chested greenlet (Hylophilus griseiventris) with its classic lemon shade standing out on otherwise grayish underparts, the lemon-breasted canary (Crithagra citrinipectus) with its bright yellow throat, breast, and brow, and the lemon-bellied flyrobin (Microeca flavigaster) with its creamy yellow underparts that blend softly with a vanilla throat.

Interestingly, the lemon dove (Aplopelia larvata) is not so aptly named, as the bird has very little yellow in its coloration – just the occasional blush of yellow on its neck when the light is right (good thing this bird is also known as the cinnamon dove, as it shows much more cinnamon coloration on its breast). Of course, we also have to mention the Meyer’s friarbird (Philemon meyeri), which while it doesn’t have the word “lemon” in its common name, is still lemon-related to lemon aficionados who recognize the Meyer variety of lemon as hybrid cross between a lemon and an orange, with more sweetness than a typical lemon. Aptly enough, the Meyer’s friarbird does have a soft blush of yellow on its neck, especially when young.

Do Birds Eat Lemons?

Despite how delicious lemons can be, most birds will actually bypass this juicy fruit due to its sourness. Some birds, however, will nibble on lemons – especially parrots. These birds are well-equipped to tear through the tough peels of lemons to reach the juicy flesh, and while lemons may not make up a large part of their diet, this fruit is definitely appealing to birds that love bold tastes.

In the backyard, you can easily offer lemons to birds just as you might offer oranges for orioles – slice the fruit in half and put a bit of jelly on the flesh to tempt birds to try a new taste. Lemon slices or chunks can be added to fruit feeders, or softer fruits like apples could be dipped in lemon juice to slow spoilage when they’re offered to birds. It can be interesting to see what fruit-loving birds might sample a tangy lemon, but don’t expect lemon to ever reach the same popularity as other fruits and foods at backyard feeders.

Lemonade - Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer
Lemonade – Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer

Enjoy Your Birds – With Lemon

The best way to combine lemons and birds is to enjoy your own lemon treats all summer while you’re birding. Fill a thermos with ice-cold lemonade to stay hydrated and refreshed on a birding walk, or pack along lemon-flavored hard candy (these limoncello candies from Italy are amazing!) for a tangy pick-me-up on the trail. And don’t forget to enjoy a lemony treat – a slice of pie, a creamy tart, or a delicious cookie – to celebrate all your summer bird sightings!

What are your favorite lemon treats or lemon-inspired birds?
Share your lemony goodness in the comments!

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