Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Foundation of Habitat

Creating habitat for bird life means starting from the plants and working up.

A well-planted yard provides shelter for birds, but quality habitat requires natural food sources as well.

Native plants like this anemone not only provide shelter, they attract native insects.

When you think of an important pollinating insect you probably think of a honey bee. But the European honey bee is not native to California (or North America for that matter).

Locally we have several species of large carpenter bees and bumble bees that pollinate plants, but many native plants are pollinated by less glorified insects – flies, beetles and moths. You can see the fly feeding on the pollen on the lower area of the flower.

Most native insects can only feed on the pollen of native plants. These insects are important food for larger insects, lizards and birds.

Creating habitat for birds means establishing an environment safe for insects–flies and beetles, as well as the more beautiful butterflies. See crane flies.

Plants and arthropods are the
foundation of habitat. Arthropods include insects, spiders and crustaceans (those little "c-shape" creatures that hop about on the ground when you lift up a pot, and yes, they are related to shrimp). Birds and lizards can establish thriving populations if your yard offers these vital resources. John Fitzgerald of Cornell University spoke last week in Los Angeles on bird conservation. He pointed out that the areas where eastern wood thrushes have declined coincide with areas of increased acid rain. The acidic rain kills the native crustaceans in the plant undergrowth, thereby removing an important food source for the wood thrush. Having a healthy population of creepers and crawlers, supports a healthy population of runners and fliers.

This western fence lizard not only eats its share of insects it also is makes your yard more healthy for you (fence lizard and Lyme's disease). Healthy fat lizards are also potentially a food source for red-shouldered hawks, shrikes and other birds.

If you want to help birds, you need to reexamine your ideal garden. Paradise isn't sterile. The Earth's garden is filled with abundance and diversity, including spiders, aphids and grubs.

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