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The Bend Magazine

A Little Birdy Told Me

11/29/2018 08:42PM ● By Justin Butts

By: Justin Butts  Photos by: Rachel Benavides

Gardeners have long recognized the important role birds play in pest control. In the pioneer days of America, farmers strategically located birdhouses throughout their fields and orchards to protect their crops from pests.  

The birdhouses were made from bark or twigs or even the hollowed-out skulls of cows and horses. These birdhouses were a lot of work, but farmers went to the trouble because they saw results. The crops nearest the birdhouses always showed the least amount of pest damage.

Benjamin Smith Barton was a leading botanist in early America. He trained Meriwether Lewis for the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1800, Barton wrote an essay called The Usefulness of Birds, which explained the role of wild birds in pest control. This work shed scientific light on a fact that farmers already understood. 

But the farmers of that day soon realized that habitat destruction was hurting bird populations, which in turn caused problems in agriculture. As early as 1823, garden writer James Worth blamed increased crop damage on what he called “the wanton destruction of the feathered tribe.” He said birds are the “link in creation [that keeps] the insect race within bounds.”

In that long-ago age, when birds still flourished in unimaginable numbers, farmers were already feeling the loss of their feathered helpers. Today, we need birds in our gardens more than ever.    

To bring birds to your landscape, hang bird feeders close to your garden. Feeders provide a supplement to the natural diet of birds, which is especially helpful in December when seeds and berries are scarce. Birds will soon congregate in your trees and drop in and out of the garden to eat pests. 

A feeder plus a birdhouse and birdbath is the ideal way to keep birds close to your garden. Birds love water. At a minimum, place a few shallow pans of water at the base of your vegetables and flowers. The birds will visit your garden to drink water and eliminate insects while they are there. 

Visit the website of the Coastal Bend Audubon Society for an excellent guide to the many beautiful birds of The Bend. Birds have long been a friend to gardeners. They bring color, song, and joy to the landscape and powerful natural pest control to your garden.