As the summer growing season winds down and farmers assess the successes and challenges, it’s also time to start planning for beneficial birds in 2023. If new nest boxes are going to be incorporated, they should be placed by the end of January. And existing nest boxes should be cleaned out so they are prepared for the next nesting season. Below are more tips and considerations for next boxes on the farm.
This month we also share news of a sobering new report showing that half of all bird species are in decline globally, largely due to habitat loss. Bringing nature back to our farms and ranches is our greatest opportunity to prevent biodiversity loss while simultaneously providing farmers with pest control services. If you haven’t yet downloaded our newly released Beneficial Bird Habitat Assessment and Native Plant Tool, it’s available here. This tool is a perfect first step, helping growers and landowners get started on supporting birds on the farm.
Increasing the abundance of native habitat also helps mitigate the spread of disease among wildlife. With the avian flu once again on the rise, birds are more likely to spread the disease when a large number of birds are confined to a small space. We share more about the avian influenza below.
In encouraging news, California courts are requiring more be done to study rodenticide impacts to wildlife before allowing their use. And, Capitol Press highlights the potential for birds to provide pest control with an article featuring Wild Farm Alliance and a study by our partner, Daniel Karp, of University of California-Davis.
Finally, we wrap up our newsletter asking for your financial support this fall. Your investment in WFA is inspiring farmers, ranchers and others to act now and helping to shift the role of farmers from being only food producers to becoming ecologically minded stewards of Farmland Flyways, Wildways and Waterways.
Enjoy this month’s News from the Wild!
Half of World Birds in Decline
The 2022 State of the Birds report, released in September, presents data on changes in bird populations across habitats of the United States in the past five decades. The report shows that almost half of all bird species are in decline globally and one in eight are threatened with extinction.
The good news is that we have the knowledge and tools to increase habitat that supports birds. And we know it works. Birds are declining overall in every habitat except in wetlands, where decades of investments and protective measures have resulted in dramatic gains. Conservation works when we give birds and nature a chance. Let’s do more to save our nation’s birds and benefit people and farmers in every state.
Nest Box Cleaning
Forget spring cleaning. When it comes to nest boxes, fall is the best time to prepare for the next nestling season. It’s important to clean out old nests as nests left in place could harbor parasites such as mites, lice and blowfly larvae that attack newly hatched chicks. Allowing birds to build a new nest on top of the old one also means the nestlings are that much closer to the entrance hole, making it easier for predators to grab them.
Nest boxes can be cleaned out between October and the end of January. After that,the birds may start building an early nest on top of the old one, which then should not be disturbed. Follow the steps on how to clean out a nest box in our Nesting Structures for Beneficial Songbirds on the Farm publication. This includes tools needed and what to watch out for.
Learn what birds need and what to consider when placing nest boxes in our Birds Nesting on the Farm video.
Do you have nest boxes on your farm? We’d love to hear about it so we can continue to show how farmers are providing important bird habitat and benefiting from their pest control services. Fill out this survey for our Farmland Flyways Nest Box Map.
How Farmers Can Use Birds to Control Pests
By Sierra Dawn McClain, Capital Press
With the right kind of landscaping, farmers can turn birds from foes into friends. Across the West, farmers and researchers are learning to design habitats around crop fields that attract beneficial bird species while reducing crop damage and food safety risks.
Studies show farms with natural habitats experience the most benefits from birds, while farms that remove non-crop vegetation face higher levels of crop damage and foodborne pathogens.
Jo Ann Baumgartner, executive director of Wild Farm Alliance, a nonprofit promoting farm biodiversity, said farms with habitats also give birds more food options.
"Birds are just looking for something to eat," she said. "If you have nothing out there but the crop, birds will eat that."
This was confirmed in a 2022 study by UC-Davis conducted across 21 strawberry fields, which found that birds ate more berries on farms without natural habitats.
Habitat Loss Causes Avian Flu to Spread More Rapidly
This year, the arrival of migrating birds, a telltale sign of the changing seasons, also brings concern. A new avian influenza, H5N1, is circulating and that means trouble for domestic chickens, wild birds and even mammals.
Habitat destruction is causing diseases like H5N1 to spread more rapidly. Migrating waterfowl spend only 5% of their day flying, for example, and most of their time roosting in habitats like flooded fields or wetlands. That kind of environment has mostly been taken up by humans, which means that more species are crowding into less space and interacting more.
“The prediction is we’re going to be hammered in the next several months,” said Maurice Pitesky, who monitors and forecasts bird viruses at the University of California, Davis.
Pitesky said avian influenza is endemic in itself, and over time, the virus most likely adapts to its host and becomes less virulent, shedding less virus into the environment. “I think we learn to live with it, and the waterfowl will adapt to it,” he says. “But we’re periodically going to have this pop up.”
Victory for Wildlife Against Toxic Rat Poison in California
Pesticides have the potential to impact many more species than the intended target, whether it’s an insecticide harming pollinators or a rodenticide harming predators. A recent court ruling in California is a win for wildlife as the California Department of Pesticide Regulation is mandated to fully consider impacts to non-target wildlife before allowing the use of the deadly rodenticide diphacinone. The decision comes after several mountain lions died from impacts related to anticoagulant rat poisons.
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You know the story – bees, birds and habitat are disappearing at an alarming rate. We don’t have decades to reverse the loss of biodiversity, which is what keeps food on our tables. Farmers need your support to be the solution to our climate and biodiversity crises.
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