In my column last week, I mentioned how the lesser goldfinches are decimating the leaves on my sunflower plants. I even included a picture of the leaves that were stripped bare, giving the appearance of insect damage.
I fear that sometimes unsuspecting individuals might see damage to the plants in their yard and wrongfully attribute it to insects. Acting on this suspicion, they may proceed to spray pesticides on plants that are actually being consumed by birds, and cause irreparable harm to the birds.
There is a mindset in society that insects are bad and need to be killed. Did you know that 96 percent of all songbirds feed their babies a diet of insects? Even seed-eaters switch their diet seasonally from seeds to insects during breeding season.
A successful nest — from hatching to fledging — requires thousands of insects over the course of just a few weeks. Adult birds spend their days scurrying about looking for juicy, nutritious bugs to feed their babies. After the babies leave the nest they gradually start eating seeds, and by winter their diet is almost exclusively seeds.
In addition to a diet of insects, wild birds consume a lot of greens — small leaves, buds, and flower petals. This is especially true this time of year for baby quail — greens make up a large part of their diet and provide necessary vitamins and minerals.
If you use herbicides in your yard to kill “undesirable” plants, you may be putting poisonous chemicals onto the surface of plants that birds are consuming. The same can be said for pesticide use. If you look at bugs as being bad and unnatural, this is not an accurate paradigm. Bugs are not only beneficial — they are necessary! A world without bugs is a world without birds. Period.
It is impossible to spray herbicides and pesticides without having an impact on other wildlife in the food chain in your yard. Chemicals are indiscriminating and will affect not only the intended targeted item but everything else it comes into contact with. There is no way to spray for weeds or insects without negatively impacting birds that feed either directly on those plants or on the insects that are eating those plants.
The topics that Rachel Carson wrote about in her landmark book, “Silent Spring” (written over 50 years ago), are still relevant in the world today — perhaps even more so.
You can’t go to a garden center, hardware or home improvement store without seeing shelves full of chemicals to kill weeds and insects. Interestingly, these same stores are selling bird seed. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Why would you buy products that would hurt the very birds you are attracting to your yard by feeding them?
I personally have a real problem when I see products such as Killzall advertised as if it is going to be the solution to all of your weed problems. Just the name alone — Killzall — should be enough of a warning that you wouldn’t even consider applying this product in your yard.
As a society we need to take a hard look at our habits and choices. The attitude of convenience and of a quick-fix mentality espouses getting rid of bugs and weeds by just spraying them — as if this solution has no downside to it.
I invite you to not use chemicals in your yard. Go native, go natural, enjoy the bounty of nature’s creations and change your attitude that certain bugs or plants are bad. Unless they are either invasive or non-native to this area, they have a place in the environment.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
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.