Recent scientific research conducted by University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy, has revealed compelling new data that shows diverse populations of native plants are essential for songbirds to successfully raise their young. We now know that a mating pair of birds needs to collect between 4,000 to 6,000 caterpillars to raise a nest of chicks. And yet, a landscape full of Old World plants (non-natives from Europe, Asia, and Africa) will yield very few caterpillars and songbirds will not be able to utilize these areas as habitat to raise their young.
Plants For Birds: Insects and the Web of Life
For as long as I can remember, there has been a horticultural drumbeat that has vilified insects to be something that we don't want in our yards and gardens. Indeed, there are injurious pests that attack our vegetables, our annual and perennial flowers, as well as our trees and shrubs. And these "bad bugs" have become more of a problem due to the widespread use of toxic chemical pesticides. These poisons have severely disrupted the delicate balance in nature whereby predator insects, bats, birds, reptiles, and amphibians feed on and keep the "bad bugs" under control.
For this and many other reasons, gardening naturally and organically MUST be how we grow our ornamental and food plants.
Yet, insects are a vital part of the food chain. These six-legged creatures consume plant tissue and convert the energy of the sun into protein for rest of the non-herbivore animal kingdom to feed. In a healthy landscape or larger ecosystem, native plants and insects strike a balance. The insects that feed on plants consume just enough to live and multiply without killing or significantly damaging the plants. Thus, nature provides the caterpillars to feed our beloved songbirds. And we humans won't even be aware that all this is going on. We only see the results: lots of songbird nests full of healthy chicks that will become the next generation of adult birds.
Plants For Birds: Regional Native Songbird Gardens
Our regional Songbird Gardens contain a selection of native plants that research by Prof. Tallamy, the National Wildlife Association and the Xerces Society have shown to be some of the best genera for providing food plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars and other insect larvae to feed.
Each regional Songbird Garden has two different planting diagrams (one for fence lines and the other for rectangular beds to be planted elsewhere on the property). Where possible, plant the garden(s) in sunny areas close to established trees and shrubs to provide additional nesting sites from where the birds can live and stay close to their nests.
We are making it easy for songbird lovers and gardeners who are interested in creating songbird habitat, to plant more natives that beautify their properties and help ensure that songbirds will have places to raise their young.
Mother Nature will appreciate your efforts.
Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.
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