Backyard gardening helps improve any habitat successfully

Donna Crane
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First of two parts
Climate Change is a popular subject and we’ve been witness to many disasters confronting our precious earth. Floods and fires are tragic examples that we witness all to often.

The following article in Mother Nature Network (MNN) was written by Tom Oder and entitled: “How to save nature, one backyard at a time.”

“You can create a haven for all sorts of creatures by using native plants, and one very handy tool.

“A Carolina chickadee hangs out in a backyard, probably due to some smart plantings.

“If you have a Carolina chickadee nest in your yard, it’s a clue that you’re doing your part to preserve nature. What’s the connection? Well, first you have to understand what chickadees like to eat.

“These inquisitive little birds with the black caps are year-round residents in a large swath of the central and eastern sections of the country — from the Atlantic to the middle of Texas and from southern Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio to the Gulf Coast and central Florida. When the birds are breeding, caterpillars are the only food they eat and feed their young.

“Caterpillar hunts are a daily ritual for breeding pairs, which begin their work at dawn and continue until dusk. During three hours of observation, Doug Tallamy, professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, saw adult birds return to their nests once every three minutes with a caterpillar. In all, he wrote in his notes, they found and brought back 17 species of caterpillars.

“‘The females produce a clutch of three to six eggs with the babies remaining in the nest for 16 to 18 days. Do the math, Tallamy said. With the parents feeding their young every three minutes from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., that’s between 390 and 570 caterpillars a day, or anywhere from 6,240 to 10,260 caterpillars until the young fledge. Once the babies have left the nest, the parents will continue to feed their young for several days, he said.

“‘You can’t have nesting Carolina chickadees if you don’t have enough host plants to support caterpillar populations,’ Tallamy said.

“A lack of native plants is proving to be detrimental to Carolina chickadees and other birds. A Smithsonian study links the decline in common resident bird species to lack of insects due to nonnative plants used in landscapes and gardens. Researchers stated that only home gardens that had at least 70% native plants are able to feed enough chickadees to produce a stable population for that area.

“‘Landowners are using non-native plants in their yards because they’re pretty and exotic, they’re easy to maintain, and they tend to have fewer pests on them,’ said Desirée Narango, a graduate student researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and first author of the study. ‘But it turns out that a lot of those insects they see as pests are actually critical food resources for our breeding birds. For landowners who want to make a difference, our study shows that a simple change they make in their yards can be profoundly helpful for bird conservation.’

“Bugs and native species:

“A red-bellied woodpecker will look for insects among the oak trees in north Florida. A woodpecker that weighs eight times more than a chickadee feeds its young on insect larvae,

“Chickadees are just one example of birds that depend on insect larvae, as Tallamy points out in his book “The Living Landscape,” which he created with co-author and photographer Richard Darke. Tallamy:

“And it’s not just birds that need insect biomass. ‘Spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, bats, and even rodents, foxes, and bears, all need insects and the larval host plants that support them to survive.’

“By host plants, Tallamy means native species. Planting natives, he said, is the way to save nature. And he wants American homeowners to know that saving nature begins in their yards.

“Our yards are ground zero because planting home landscapes with native species is the only remaining way to re-create once-connected natural ecosystems that have been disrupted by commercial development and urban sprawl.

“‘Amazingly enough,’ he said, ‘our natural areas — parks, preserves and even our largest national parks — are no longer large enough to support the nature we all need to run our ecosystems. We’ve shrunk them down too far. We’re now at a point where we cannot lose the insects in our yards without collapsing local food webs.’

“A tool for improving any habitat includes your backyard.

“Tallamy is on the board of a team that has devised an online tool to bring together people interested in rethinking their yards. Housed at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and jointly run with The Nature Conservancy, the tool is a citizen science project called Habitat Network.

“Habitat Network, which is built on Google Maps, provides homeowners with an easy and interactive way to record small-scale natural habitats on their property. Using the map involves four basic actions:

• Outlining the site;

• Adding ecological details;

• Drawing habitat;

• Placing objects, like special trees or bird baths.”

Continued next week

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