As outreach specialist at the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District, I read a lot of newsletters from organizations full of tips and tricks for conserving natural resources. One press release I recently read, from Oregon State University Extension wildlife specialist Dana Sanchez, spurred me to action – she warned that a common landscaping shrub that was in my own front yard in Beaverton may threaten local bird populations due to its toxic berry. You know this shrub as nandina, sacred bamboo or heavenly bamboo, and even if you don’t have it at home, you’ve definitely seen it around. Nandina is found in the landscaping of yards, parks, hospital grounds and other locations across the lower 48 states. The landscapers for our homeowners association obviously liked its bright red berries and contrasting dark green foliage, and I know that local nurseries are selling this shrub to add color and texture at homes and offices. Some homeowners plant nandina to provide food for cedar waxwings, American robins, Northern mockingbirds and other birds that depend on winter fruits to survive. Nandina berries stay on the bush for months, attracting hungry birds when food is in short supply. And that can become a major problem for the birds. When dozens of cedar waxwings were found dead in Georgia three years ago, investigators at the University of Georgia found the cause to be nandina berries. Bird autopsies revealed the berries lodged in the birds’ crops, as well as hemorrhaging of several internal organs. The root of the birds’ distress is the cyanide and other alkaloids contained in the berries that produce highly toxic hydrogen cyanide, which is extremely poisonous to all animals. Sudden death may be the only sign of cyanide poisoning and death usually comes within minutes to an hour of exposure. Worse still, nandina is a non-domestic, noxious and highly invasive weed that displaces the non-toxic, native plants on which local birds would thrive. Nandina has been imported from China and Japan and has invaded many natural areas. Homeowners and commercial landscapers are still planting this toxic species, unaware of the risk. “Over 220 bird species nationwide are in serious decline, including our most common birds. Birds are being killed on all fronts,” said Jerry W. Davis, a certified wildlife biologist from Arkansas. “By working together, we can eliminate this toxic and noxious invasive plant. If you are not doing your part, the job is not getting done.” You can join me in taking three easy steps to reduce this threat to our local birds: 1. Avoid using nandina in your landscaping projects and opt for beneficial native plants with a similar appearance, such as Pacific ninebark, red elderberry or red huckleberry, instead. Many of these provide a more attractive flower during spring and summer. I plan on sharing this information with my HOA and hope they’ll change the landscaping. If you would like a flier about nandina and its effects or native plant guides to help select substitutes, please contact me email@example.com. 2. If you do have nandina that you aren’t ready to part with (or if, like me, you aren’t allowed to remove it), you can prune the bushes to remove the berries. It took me about 5 minutes to remove all the red berries from the plants in my yard, and they won’t come back at all during the winter. Planting a variety of non-toxic food sources such as serviceberry, snowbrush or red twig dogwood will help fill the gap. 3. Report sightings to the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline. Currently, there are no control efforts underway in Washington County for nandina, but sharing this article with the landscaping company that handles your home or business may help. Look for an announcement in our spring newsletter of the 2014 Weed Watcher class dates to learn more about invasive species identification and reporting.