Several years ago, I planted six rosebushes in our backyard as a gift to my wife for Mother’s Day — one bush for each of our children. As I was sitting out on the back patio this past Sunday, Mother’s Day, I enjoyed watching little bushtits as they gleaned for insects on the rosebushes.
Anyone who has ever grown roses knows that they are prone to aphids. Aphids seem to love rosebushes, and, fortunately, bushtits love aphids. Problem solved — without using any pesticides!
As a nature lover, as a homeowner, as a husband, father, and grandfather, I have very strong feelings about the use of pesticides and herbicides. As you might imagine, I do not use any herbicides or pesticides in my yard. I feel this is the wrong approach to managing weeds and insects.
The best form of bug control is birds! It is free, it is natural, and it is not harmful to the environment. Over the years, as I have taught classes on the topic of “Landscaping to attract birds to your yard,” I share my reasonings for not using harmful chemicals in your yard. I tell folks that if you want to have birds in your yard, you need bugs. In other words, bugs are your friends. The more bugs in your yard, the more bird activity you will have in your yard.
A yard without bugs is unhealthy, and unnatural. Bugs are a critical food source for wild birds. If you eliminate bugs from your yard, you are also eliminating the varieties of birds that feed on bugs, such as bushtits.
Interestingly, most of the birds that are seed-eaters switch their diet seasonally. During the winter months, when we get freezing temperatures, bugs are all but gone. Songbirds that winter over consume a diet of mostly seeds.
However, when spring arrives, bird species that we normally think of as being seed-eaters, switch their diet from seeds to insects during the spring and summer months. There are many reasons for this change in diet, but I will focus on only one or two.
When wild birds are rearing babies, the only way the baby birds in the nest get water is through the food that their parents bring to them. Seeds have a very low moisture content, and are not an appropriate food source for baby songbirds.
Think about the experience of driving down the road and having a bug hit your windshield — splat! Bugs have a high moisture content, as they eat plants, which also have a high moisture content.
It is interesting to contemplate the role of bugs in the food chain. A staggering statistic is the fact that 96% of all passerines (songbirds) feed their babies a diet of insects. Nesting success — or failure — for songbirds is dependent upon the parents finding enough insects every day to feed their brood.
Homeowners can play a significant role in helping songbirds successfully raise baby birds by creating a habitat using native plants that act as a host for insects. An abundance of native plants — and bugs — creates the perfect environment for nesting birds needing to feed a nest full of baby birds.
In late summer, as breeding activity winds down and summer rains produce weeds and flowering plants that create seeds, seed-eating varieties of birds naturally switch their diet from insects back to seeds. Witnessing nature, and the wisdom of its Creator, leaves me humbled knowing that nature is resilient and adaptable to the changing seasons and food sources available to them.
Until next week, Happy Birding, and be well!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.