Saying Good Bye to a Billion Birds

Did you know that in 2016, North America had more than a billion fewer breeding birds than 40 years ago?

Blue birds eating insects. Photo by the Louis Gintner Botanical Garden.

What is contributing to the decline in bird populations? Scientist Doug Tallamy has discovered that when non-native ornamental plants are installed in the landscape, insect populations plummet because insects are co-evolved to feed from native plant species, not from introduced plant species.

Insects make up 96 percent of terrestrial birds’ food source.

Carolina chickadee prepares to feed young. Photo by Douglas Tallamy.

 

Thousands of lady beetles hibernating in a canyon area in a southern California woodland in the winter of 2020. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

We have 3,300 species of ornamental plants (from other areas of the world) introduced in the United States. These plants are cultivated and promoted by nurseries and home improvement centers because they are unusual, pretty, and easy to grow.

Ornamental Pampas Grass (from Argentina and Brazil) invades a creek in Southern California. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Introduced ornamental plants do not support abundant insect life, and without insects–humans, birds, and animals cannot survive. Other factors contributing to the reduction in bird populations include pesticide use, bird strikes on windows and plexiglass fencing, and feral cats. To learn more, you can read Tallamy’s research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

Ornamental fountain grass (from Africa) planted in a residential landscape in Southern California.

What can you do to help? Start by learning about native plants from your region. If you live in California, you can go to CalScape.org and type in your zip code. You will find a list of plants that are native to your area, and the insects and pollinators the native plant supports.

California Native Plant Society

Returning birdsong to the outdoors is one of the reasons why the Orange County California Native Plant Society is giving away one free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat to Orange County homeowners. Buckwheat supports 15 species of butterflies and moths, not to mention all of the native bees and other insects that thrive with this plant in the landscape. Plant a California buckwheat today and help birds find enough to eat.

Lady Beetle Visits Buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

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