Trees Need Birds

Backyard Wisdom

by Gilbert A Smith, ISA Certified Master Arborist

 Chickadee

Chickadee

Every one knows that the birds need trees for protection, perches, for hunting grounds and to nest and raise families in. Did you know that trees need birds? Of course they do. This symbiosis or mutualism doesn’t just apply to worms, ants, people and trees it also is the case for birds. When you hear the knock knock knock of a woodpecker you’re hearing a bird mining a tree for insects that may be harming the tree. Some experts estimate that 17% of the Emerald Ash Borer are eaten by wood peckers. Unfortunately that’s not enough to keep the Borer from killing our Ash trees. Because it was introduced without its natural controlling insects and diseases the borer has gone wild and with it the population of wood peckers has soared.

 Cardinal photo by Lesley Bruce Smith

Cardinal photo by Lesley Bruce Smith

If you’ve ever watched a Chickadee mine the branches of your trees for insects you know what a thorough hunter looks like. Systematically hopping up and down the length of every branch poking it’s beak into tiny bark crevasses. No wonder that it has been estimated that Chickadees consume 1000 bugs a day. Most birds need the protein that bugs provide in the spring when they are raising their young. Since the trees can’t slap or scratch bugs that bite they really need the birds to do it for them.  Bad bugs would soon overpopulate and kill all of the trees if the good bugs and birds weren’t there to control them.

So what happens if we spray a tree with a non selective insecticide? It kills the  good and bad bugs then the bird who eats them goes hungry and its population plunges.  Then in most cases the bad bug population explodes worse than before the spray because it has no natural controls.  That is why spraying with non-organic methods should only be done as a last resort. But feed your birds with seeds and suet while providing nesting locations and your trees will prosper too.   

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