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An Environmental Approach to Manage Insects Next Summer

Maureen Sexsmith-West, ISA Certified Arborist

October 29, 2012

When I was younger I took great delight in digging up worms. As a teenager, I took for granted the natural world around me. It wasn’t until I had children that the wonders of our planet started to take focus. I had lots of exposure to learning at school, at home and girl guides – it was just filed somewhere in the ‘good to know someday’ part of my brain.

I really came to appreciate and enjoy bird watching when I lived in Elkford, BC. My kitchen window had a great view of the back yard. We had a Mountain Ash and an Ornamental Apple tree along with a variety of shrubs. I began noticing the most beautiful and unusual birds coming to our trees – devouring the fruit. Evening Grosbeaks came in flocks of hundreds at a time. I waited anxiously to view a bald eagle that routinely perched in a snag on a hill to the west. I quickly invested in a Pederson’s Field Guide and a pair of binnoculars – I was hooked.

I picked up a few books from the library, and before you know it, I had SIX different bird feeders strategically placed so I had a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the activity. Each had a different offering of seeds and suet. I kept a journal to track migratory patterns, weather and so on. Come to think of it, I still have it packed away somewhere. I spent hours ready with my 35 mm camera waiting to get the best pictures. Kodak made a killing off me back then – thank goodness for digital cameras. It inspired me to become involved in the Rocky Mountain Bluebird project and I became a Birdquest facilitator. I built birding into my programs as a Girl Guide and Brownie leader. While my daughters are all grown up now – they would surely still describe me as a feathered fanatic.

I already have a bird bath in the yard and a variety of birdhouses ready for service. With the temperatures dropping, I positioned my covered platform feeder and a nyger feeder in the protection of my lilac bushes. It didn’t take long to have a regular following.

Besides providing hours of enjoyment, birds play a vital role in a healthy landscape. Birds have a wide ranging diet. Some exclusively eat seeds and others insects. I was surprised to learn that there are 12 categories of feeding types.

I have made a short list of birds typically found in our area and the insects on their menu. Keep in mind they may also find your beneficial bugs tasty too.

Nuthatches: borers, caterpillars, ants and earwigs

Woodpeckers: larvae, beetles, weevils, borers

Chickadees: aphids, whitefly, scales, caterpillars, ants and earwigs

Swallows: moths, beetles, grasshoppers

Wrens: all insects and spiders

I don’t know if you realize that one Flicker can consume 3000 (yes, three thousand) ants a day. Ants are closely aligned with aphid populations – sounds like a great reason to encourage them to your yard.

Things you can do:

Set up bird feeders that offer a mix of seeds, fruit, nuts and suet for the widest variety of birds. If you start feeding, you need to be consistent all winter. Once they associate your yard as a food source, they will come for seeds and stay for the insects.

A bird bath is a must year round. Water is essential for both drinking and bathing. Plant a mix of conifers and fruit/seed bearing treesand shrubs for nesting, roosting and food.

Erect bird houses. Size DOES matter so do a little research to find the correct dimensions, hole size and elevation for the variety of bird you are trying to attract. There are numerous plans available on-line. Make it a family project . A board, a hand saw, some glue and a few screws is all you need.

While the birds don’t care about the curb appeal – they make great decorator pieces so let your creativity soar. For birds – it is all about location, location, location.

Don’t wait until spring to put one up. Birds need places to roost in the winter to keep warm. Many will investigate your boxes well before the Spring breeding season, so you want to be ready for ‘wrent’.

Happy Bird Watching this Winter


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