Turning the tide for bugs and birds

A brand new study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute indicates that there’s a direct link between a rapid decline in insect-eating garden birds and increased use of non-native plants in landscaping. Insectivorous birds – such as warblers, bluebirds and woodpeckers –  are highly dependent on the availability of high-protein, high-calorie grub such as beetles, caterpillars and spiders to feed their young during the breeding season. When the availability of this type of food isn’t available, adults birds are less successful in breeding and the population declines.

So why are our insects faring so badly? Part of the explanation is climate change and pesticides, but the other part of the issue is habitat loss and change. Non-native tree and shrub species do just not support enough of our native insects. Non-native, exotic species are often favoured over native species as they are selected for their attractiveness, they are often easy to maintain and have fewer pests on them. However what scientists are finding is that these insects that many landowners consider a pest, is actually a very critical food source for birds that breed in our towns and cities.

So what can we do to turn the tide on bugs and birds? Here are our tips for how you and your family can attract more insect-eating birds to your garden (and benefit a whole range of wildlife at the same time):

  • Prioritize native flowers, shrubs and trees over non-native ones.
  • Create an insect hotel. Like all other creatures, insects need to have their basic needs met – food, water and a safe place to live.
  • Go wild with wildflower seeds to create a beautiful meadow (small is fine too) which will be sure to attract insects.
  • Leave piles of logs and wood to rot – within a few seasons, this will be ideal homes for many insects.
  • Refrain from using pesticides if you can
  • Give ground-dwelling insects some cover by keeping your garden beds mulched. The mulch will also keep the soil moist.

Image credit: W. Lynn

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