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There has been a dramatic decline in the number of many bird species in North America. According to the North American Bird Conservation Initiative 37 percent of North American birds, or 432 species, are at risk as a result. Climate change and habitat loss are often cited as major contributing factors for this decline.

The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society recently featured a video of a talk by the entomologist Douglas Talllamy who addressed a component of habitat loss that many of us in the audience had never considered. Habitat loss, according to Tallamy, and for which he supplied considerable data, is not just land which has been deforested, developed, or mined, but all land which no longer supports insects. Many birds that might normally feed primarily on seeds or fruit, feed their young almost exclusively on the larval form of the insects butterflies and moths — caterpillars. Caterpillars are soft, very digestible, and protein rich. Tallamy then pointed out that insects, such as butterflies and moths, have co-evolved with native plants and trees, so much so that they rely almost 100 percent on native plants and trees for food. Insects virtually cannot and do not feed on non-native plants and trees. When peoples’ gardens contain almost exclusively non-native ornamentals from other continents, we reduce caterpillars, by hundreds, if not thousands. And as we deprive our gardens of insects, and caterpillars, we deprive our native birds of food for their young.

To help save our threatened birds we need to provide native trees and plants in our gardens so that the caterpillars on which young birds are fed can thrive. In Tallamy’s estimation if all of us in the United States converted just half of our gardens and lawns to native habitat it would be the equivalent of the combined native habitat preserved in over twenty national parks. Among those he listed were Yellowstone, Yosemite, Olympic National Forest, Redwood National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, and Glacier National Park.

For me it is uplifting to know there is something I can do to help counter the threat to imperiled birds.

The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society, as well as local nurseries, websites of organizations such as Friends of the Arcata Marsh and Friend of the Dunes, are good sources of information on Humboldt County’s native plants and trees. The link to the video shown by the local CNPS chapter is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo4ZJ-ryTaE. Tallamy has also published a book entitled “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.”

Nancy Ihara resides in Arcata.

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