Birds: My Hired Insect Control Army
For about $30 a month I keep my insect problems to the barest of minimums. This method would be overwhelmingly supported by any organic gardening critic. This method demands very little labor on my part. And, I am able to use nature to control nature in my garden. So, yes, the title of this blog is not a typo. My favorite method of insect control is to support a VERY active bird population. The diversity of their members is why I consider them my army.
I spent the past couple of days just observing the bird activity in my garden. I did not realize how much activity was going on around me while I was weeding, mowing and all the other garden tasks that make up 99% of my puttering. I was amazed. I spent an hour just watching a small flock of sparrows (I will call them sparrows though their exact type I am still unsure) attack the large dead stump of a Blue Spruce in the front garden. I had been wondering for days why the holes in the trunk were getting larger but I had not seen the pileated woodpecker that began the process last winter. It was while I was enjoying my end of the day beer on the old deck that I noticed these birds swarming the stump. I was astounded. I had never noticed birds doing this before. I mean, it looked like a well choreographed dance the way they were going about their business.
I looked at the stump later assuming naively that they were building nests in these holes. This crossed my thoughts first because I had just disrupted a nest built in the heart of a daylily clump I was trying to cut down that was near this blue spruce stump. Unknowingly I chose to divide a clump with a nest. So, seeing all the sparrows swarming this stump I assumed they were just building an apartment building. The holes however were not the right shape. They were long, following the grain and a bit deep. An egg would roll right out because the shape did not have a flat bottom. What were they doing? Easy, they were digging in the soft rotting wood looking for hidden delectables. The number of active participants on this stump is enough to convince me that the population size of the larva or ants or termites or whatever must be rather significant.
One of my favorite visitors this summer has been the red headed woodpecker. I recently watched while a fledgling was directed to the bird seed by a protective parent who kept intruders away until junior had fed. Red headed wood peckers eat seed, tree nuts, and insects in short anything small enough they can fit into their mouth. These omnivores are a welcome addition to the menagerie. I purposefully leave dead trees in the woods just so these birds and all other life that depend on such are able to utilize the rotting tree.
Another favorite is the cute little Black-capped chickadee. This omnivore is quick and bold. It will swoop in, grab a sunflower seed and fly off just as fast to a nearby branch where it proceeds to pound the seed open on the bark of the tree. These birds are so quick that they are fearless to the point of landing even when I am quite near the feeder. When not opening a sunflower seed, this bird is storing food, living off of insects caught in flight and looking for caterpillars.
Who doesn’t like the nuthatch? These crazy acrobats climb upside down, right side up, slant ways and all Willie Wanka ways in a tree. I particularly like it when they twist their necks to look over their backs. They are even more secure landing and grabbing a bit of seed while I am near the feeder than the chickadee. These omnivores hunt and store food in the bark of trees too.
These are only a small handful of the dozens of birds that frequent my feeders every day. The population changes throughout the year to give added interest. I have had a pileated woodpecker come to the feeder in the winter (to the annoyance of Becca my dog) though I rarely if ever see one during the summer. I miss the house finches in the late fall and winter. I welcome their return as spring is approaching just like looking forward to the first robin. Doves are a year round bully at the feeder. They secure a spot at the feeder and don’t yield their position unless a Blue jay muscles its way in.
The dynamics at the feeder often keep me and my coffee company many Sunday mornings. I have been known to lose track of a couple of hours at these times. My main feeder is positioned on the railing of the deck so that it is directly through the window in front of my spot on the couch. The squirrels and chipmunks used to drive me crazy. I didn’t want to feed them too. These are Becca’s favorite visitors so I acquiescence to her these little nuisances. Becca is far too “big boned” to really catch any of them. She likes to exert her dominance just the same. She and they are another part of the natural condition . . . the amusing part that is.
I control squirrel and chipmunk visits by my feeding method. I have created a long trough – like seed corralling structure on the top of the railing. I did this originally so that I could spread the seed out over a longer distance so that a greater number of birds could feed at one time. It also keeps some that like to scratch in the seed from spreading it too far away. Some seed spreading is good. This provides the food for those birds that like to feed by searching the ground. Still, I didn’t want the seed spread out of the feeder too quickly. Now I like my trough because I can limit the amount of feed at any given time in the feeder. This means that when I know the pesky lazy squirrels are feeding I can keep their foraging to a minimum. It may mean putting food into the feeder more times during the day. This is not a hardship. In fact, during the summer I pass this feeder 8 gazillion times a day going into and out of the house through the deck. During the winter it gives me a reason to get up off of the couch more often than changing the DVD or going to the bathroom. Keep in mind that feeding your birds year round is the way to encourage a huge population in your garden.
Squirrels frequently go for extended vacations to parts unknown throughout the year. There are several times during the year such as when they are trying eagerly to eat each and every shagbark hickory or white oat acorn that I almost miss their antics at the feeder. There seems to be a hierarchy in their small circle. They “growl” at each other. The sound is more than a cat growl and not quite like a chirp. They will position themselves in such a way in the feeder as to discourage other birds and squirrels from feeding at the same time they are. This usually means in the exact center with their tail curled above their back. When there are more than 2 at the feeder then Becca and I get a treat of watching them skirmish.
I seem to have lost my way and the theme of today. That is, for a small amount of money one can with extremely little effort effectively manage a garden pest problem and receive an abundance of entertainment in the process. Why ever would anyone want to put a poison out that kills everything including ourselves when we can promote and encourage nature to our benefit. I am not saying that there is not an insect damaged leaf in my garden. What I am saying is that the very rare damage I see is well worth the price for a viable ecosystem where all can live and grow, chirp and squeak, run and fly, raise their young and die in a way they are designed to do.