The hottest months of the summer are upon us. Harvesting is in full swing and consumers across the country are enjoying the fruits of their labor. In the nest boxes, beneficial birds like Western Bluebirds and Ash-throated Flycatchers are saying goodbye to their nestlings from their second or maybe even third brood. In the hedgerows and riparian buffers, beneficial insects and birds are continuing to protect crops by providing important pest control services. As the summer sun heats up the land, conserving water resources is so critical for supporting wildlife and food production. Keeping the soil covered with native plants on the edges of fields helps to maintain the many layers of biodiversity.
This month we finished up our 10-lesson course, the Role of Birds on the Farm. We had so many fantastic speakers, including Dr. Matt Johnson and Dr. Melanie Truan, who both shared research, insights and best practices for incorporating Barn Owl and songbird nest boxes and habitat to increase bird presence on the farm for pest control services.
We released our Beneficial Bird Native Plant Chart, a new resource to help select native California species for supporting birds on the farm. We also thank Nick Filannino, our GrizzlyCorps Fellow, for a really productive year.
Below, we share hopeful news for national investments in farm programs, a new study on the benefits of songbirds for pest control in New England, and a well-researched article connecting neonicotinoid pesticides to songbird declines. We also share some lovely warbler photos sent to us from an Oregon fruit grower.
Enjoy this month’s newsletter, the delicious fruits of the season and the long days of summer.
WFA Program Update
Help to take care of birds by providing native plants they prefer and they will better help control pests in the farm and garden. Over the last several months, WFA hosted a 10-lesson course, Role of Birds on the Farm. Over 550 farmers, ag professionals and bird enthusiasts joined one or more lessons. If you weren’t able to attend the lessons live, the content is available to review at your leisure. You can watch the recordings for all 10 lessons on our website here or via the Youtube playlist here.
New WFA Beneficial Bird Native Plant Chart
We also released a native plant chart with about 160 native California species that provide various benefits for birds and the climate. Use the chart to determine what to plant on your farm to support birds. Information provided includes seasonal floral resources and other plant foods birds consume, plants that support the most caterpillars birds eat, bird species use of plant genera and climate benefits to birds and our planet. While these are California natives, similar plants and their genera occur across the country.
Thank you, Nick Filannino, GrizzlyCorps Fellow
For the past eleven months, Nick worked with WFA to build our capacity and provide technical assistance on installing native hedgerows and nest boxes. Nick was a huge asset to our organization and a pleasure to work with. His knowledge and love of wild nature was evident in his work with the 30+ growers who he helped with either applying for a California Department of Food and Agriculture Healthy Soils Program funding or installing a native hedgerow. He also spent a lot of time installing and monitoring songbird nest boxes on nearby farms, conducting outreach at events and online and bringing science to the forefront of our work. Fortunately, Nick has agreed to another year of service with WFA and will be back in action in September.
Historic Climate Change Program Package
Earlier this week, after months of on-and-off negotiations, Senate leaders announced a proposed deal on legislation aimed at advancing key pieces of President Biden’s agenda, including measures to combat climate change. If passed, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 would, among other things, provide $8.5 billion for EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), as well as $3.25 billion for CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) over the next ten years.
“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) welcomes this generational investment in farmers and rural communities. If passed, this legislation could pave the way for a climate-focused 2023 Farm Bill. The package includes much-needed investments to help farmers and ranchers adopt conservation practices to build climate resilience, reduce emissions, and play a central role in our national response to the climate crisis,” said Mike Lavender, NSAC Interim Policy Director.
WFA and NSAC encourage Congressional leaders to pass the bill immediately with agricultural spending intact to ensure farmers, ranchers, and foresters are best prepared to deal with extreme weather events caused by climate change that increasingly threaten their livelihoods, as well as the stability of our food supply.
New England Study Demonstrates the Benefits of Songbirds for Insect Pest Control
A new study quantifies the amount of insect pest control provided by birds to three important crops to New England farmers: brassicas (e.g., kale, broccoli), cucurbits (e.g., squash, cucumber), and Solanaceae (e.g., eggplant, potato). Researchers at University of Massachusetts Amherst also examined the role of different songbird species in the provision of pest control in this system.
Understanding the role of bird communities and individual species in pest control promises to be important for managing farms under a low intensity agroecological framework. In New England, farmers are increasingly applying low intensity agricultural practices, and these low intensity farms have high conservation value for bird communities.
Neonic Nation: Is Widespread Pesticide Use Connected To Grassland Bird Declines?
Pesticides and their environmental effects are in the news to an extent we haven’t seen since the days of DDT half a century ago, largely because of concerns that neonicotinoids are harming pollinators like bees and butterflies. But scientists are increasingly making the link between neonics and declines in avian species as well.
In an article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, author Scott Weidensaul documents several of these studies. He shares that if swallowed, a neonic-treated kernel of corn is enough to kill a jay-sized songbird, and as few as four pinhead-sized canola seeds, treated with neonics, can cause a host of sublethal effects in a sparrow-sized bird, interfering with avian metabolism, migration, fat deposition, and reproduction. Neonicotinoids are America's most used class of pesticides, found in the vast majority of the nation's corn crop and nearly half of soybeans, which makes these results even more troubling.
Beneficial birds are an effective tool in a farmer’s pest control toolbox. Instead of turning to insecticides like neonics that are harmful to birds and pollinators, consider a different approach, like increasing beneficial bird habitat.
Farmland Flyways Photos
We love when growers share their photos of nesting birds with us! Helen Atthowe took these photos at her Woodleaf Farm in Oregon. She says, “the voracious worm-eating yellow warblers have been working the apples, pluots, peaches and nectarines along with the finches, woodpeckers, and what feels like 100s of fledgling and adult robbins.” Helen also reports: "The orchard is full of fruit and there is very little insect damage so far!"