Birds and Garden Habitats. Sacramento Audubon encourages you to learn more about native plants and insects and to make your yard a haven for native birds. Scroll down to see why natives are important and check out the links to various resource materials and local workshops. _______________________________________________________
California Dancer Damselfly - Photo by Subhash Chand
Exerpts from : “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas W. Tallamy (Published by Timber Press, Inc)
Updated and Expanded Edition 2009.
Why should our gardens have native plants? “The wild creatures we enjoy will not be here in the future if we take away their food and the places they live.Most of our native plant-eaters are not able to eat alien plants that we plant in our suburban gardens.It is now within the power of individual gardeners to “make a difference” in sustaining wildlife by creating mini-ecosystems using native plants.
Smart plant choices. Europeans first fell in love with the exotic beauty of plants that explorers brought home from other continents.It quickly became fashionable and a sign of status to landscape with alien ornamentals that few others had access to.Even today, we seek unique species and cultivars for our home gardens.But the transition from alien ornamentals to native species has started and every gardener can help.
Alien ornamentals do well in gardens partly because native insects do not consider them food and thus do not attack them.But this results in fewer insects in the garden and the many birds and animals that depend on insect protein for food will avoid such gardens.96% of terrestrial North American birds rely on insects or arthropods (typically spiders that eat insects) to feed their young.Insects are very good at converting plant tissue to insect tissue which becomes bird food.Because birds directly or indirectly depend on plants for their food, the diversity of birds in a particular habitat is closely linked to the diversity of plants in that habitat.
Native Bees on Native Salvia - Photo by John Serences
It all boils down to co-evolution. One may ask why native insects do not adapt to alien plant species – they do, but it is a very slow evolutionary process that takes thousands of years not just a few centuries.Eucalyptus stellulata is host to 48 insect species in Australia but to just one in California.In Europe, Phragmites australis (common reed) supports 170 species of insects but only 5 North American insects use this plant.500 years after certain conifers (Pianceae, Texaceae) were introduced in Great Britain, only 50 of the 500 species of moths available to eat these species actually do so.
Up to 90% of plant eating insects have evolved in concert with no more than a few plant lineages.Some insects eat just one plant species!This may be due to the need for insects to develop the ability to overcome the physical and chemical defenses of their hosts through behavioral and physiological adaptations.By definition, native insects have shared little evolutionary history with alien plants.
Western Bluebird with insect larvae - Photo by Dave Johnson
For most of us, the most compelling reason to return to native plants is the food they produce for our charismatic birds.A 2006 study in Texas found that insectivorous birds were significantly more abundant in plots that had more native vegetation compared to plots invaded by alien vegetation.A 2005 study in Montana found that longspur (sparrow) nestlings reared in prairie areas dominated by invasive alien grasses were smaller (and more likely to die) than nestlings reared in areas with native grasses.”
Other Benefits of Gardening with Native Plants 1.Low water requirements - they are adapted to local conditions.Save water and money. 2.No need for chemical fertilizers or any of the commercial biocides - herbicides,insecticides, fungicides – native plants are adapted to local "bugs".Save money and protect your and community health – no chemicals run-off into local waterways, winding up in the drinking water of someone downstream or in fish or plants eaten by people. 3.Low maintenance – native plants grow well together (they evolved growing along side one another) and to predictable sizes and require no weekly mowing or pruning.Save time for more fun activities. 4.Less noise and air pollution – no need for mowers and blowers! 5. Enhance livability - An ecologically functional landscape offers so much more than a sterile, static landscape. It offers imagination to our children, and color, sound and wonder to all of us. It is cleaner, quieter and healthier, and may increase property values.
Resources and Reference Materials: Click on each link to view the document. Then download it if you wish.