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Blue Birds Earning Their Keep In California Vineyard

In an innovative study, nest boxes were installed at a California vineyard and they have attracted hundreds of birds. And, in exchange for the “free housing”, the farmer’s crops have been picked clean of pests. This is heartening news for conservationists who have for years seen reports of shrinking habitats and population declines for so many species.

“Placing songbird nesting boxes in agricultural landscapes can provide suitable nesting sites for a lot of birds that used to be plentiful 100 or 200 years ago but lost their natural landscapes,” said Dr. Julie Jedlicka, an ornithologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

In Dr. Jedlicka’s study, she wanted to find out if installing nest boxes would attract the birds and if they would reduce the number of pests. Her study was recently published in the journal PLos One and it confirmed her hunch. When compared with areas in the same vineyard which did not have the nest boxes, the areas which did have nesting boxes were found to attract twice as many birds early in the nesting season. These areas with nest boxes were also found to have 2.6 times as many birds in the breeding season.

Western Bluebirds really took advantage of the situation. They counted 313 of them in the nest box sites, versus 39 in the control portions of the vineyard.

1,122 birds were counted and 25 different species were noted. The number of species was about the same in sites with boxes and those without. However, the number of insect eating species was 50% greater in areas with the boxes. Insectivorous birds removed about 2.4 times as many insect larvae in areas with nest boxes as they did in the control areas.

This is not a new idea. From 1885 to 1940, the Department of Agriculture promoted this practice. After World War II, pesticides like DDT were found to be a quick fix and the birds were set aside.

Some pests, such as spider mites, are too small for birds to consume, so the birds won’t be able to replace pesticides entirely. Meanwhile, a bluebird family of 5 requires 125 grams of arthropods a day and they are not picky about what they have to eat!