Our summer monsoons have been such a blessing. However, sometimes our blessings can also result in challenges. What kinds of challenges can an abundance of rain bring? Weeds — and lots of them!
As a naturalist, I enjoy the profusion of growth of all of the different native weeds that are flourishing under such favorable conditions. It pains me, as I drive around town, to see homeowners (and even city crews) spraying weeds with herbicides in order to kill them.
I can understand how homeowners want to have an attractive, weed-free yard, but I fear all too often the knee-jerk reaction to getting rid of weeds is to just spray them. This is an awful, horrible solution for our environment. The problem with spraying poisons in your yard is that it is going to affect a lot more than just the weeds.
As you might imagine, I tend to think of things from a more natural perspective. Ultimately, “weeds” are a mixture of native grasses and flowering plants that produce forage and seeds for a host of animal species — especially for birds. The main diet for songbirds is seeds and insects. Our summer crop of weeds is like a buffet table laden with food for wild birds.
Additionally, we need to think about the birds arriving this fall that will winter over. Many of our wintering bird species rely on seeds as their primary food source. The seeds consumed in the winter months are produced during our monsoon season. Species such as white-crowned sparrows, chipping sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, towhees, dove and quail are all seed eaters. Removing their primary food source will make winter survival much more challenging.
Another concern I have is for our summer birds that are rearing young. Insects make up almost 100% of a songbird’s diet for raising young. Where do birds find insects? In plants. Plants are the primary food source for insects, which in turn is the primary source of food for birds. By spraying herbicides in your yard, you are not only killing ‘unwanted’ plants, but you are also affecting insects.
A more serious, long-term risk of using chemicals in your yard is the fact that residue from these poisons ultimately end up in our waterways. Every time it rains, some of the poisons leach into the soil and into storm runoff, which ends up in our creeks, and eventually in our lakes, where the concentration of contaminants accumulates year after year.
This is not new information. Anyone with a basic understanding of science and ecology knows that herbicides (and pesticides) do far more harm than their intended use. In my yard, I get rid of weeds the old-fashioned way — I pull them out of the ground.
If you are not able to pull weeds, then find a young person in your neighborhood who is willing to work and pay him or her to pull your weeds. When I was 10 years old, I typed up a little flyer soliciting yard work jobs, and I distributed these flyers around my neighborhood. This small act resulted in life-long friendships and sweet connections with older people who treated me with kindness and caring.
One person that responded to my flyer learned of my interest in birds. She belonged to the Tucson Audubon Society chapter. She took a personal interest in me, and took me to monthly Audubon Meetings and field trips. I owe a debt of gratitude to my dear friend, Juliane, for fostering my love of nature.
I invite you to protect our environment and bless the life of a young person!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at email@example.com.