Wildlife Driven Design

Our native butterfly sage or bloodberry is buzzing with bees and swirling with butterflies. Four mockingbirds take turns feeding on the red berries and two brown thrashers sift through the leaf litter for insects; all within view from our patio.

Flowers and fruit are important for wildlife, yet insects and spiders are the main diet of young, growing birds and most adult birds. Many species of native insects eat the leaves, buds and seeds of our native plants while few have gotten past the chemical defenses of introduced exotics.

There are thousands of caterpillars and other insects and spiders hiding in most large native trees. During the nesting season it is important to have these trees to supply the insect food for our next generation of birds. Insects contain twice the protein of beef.

Exotic plants are sold as pest free. They arrived here from various countries without the insects that feed on them. If one of these foreign insects is accidentally imported, like the ficus white fly, it becomes a serious pest because it has arrived without any of its natural predators. These insects are often not fed upon by our birds either. Without seed eating insects, the thousands of seeds that many exotics produce have a good chance of spreading to other yards and natural areas when birds eat their berries and carry them off.

With more caterpillars, grasshoppers stinkbugs, and other insects eating your native plants you would think that they would be ripped to shreds and become ugly. Yet, it is rare to notice up to ten percent damage to the leaves of a plant. Fear not, the damage is usually much less. The imported weevils from Asia are what you are noticing scalloping the edges of your plant leaves, both native and exotic.

When planting for wildlife, consider plants that actually get a few “pests.” Oaks, maples, pines, Florida elm, sweetgum, gumbo limbo, wild tamarind and redbay are just a few trees that are loaded with insects and attract many birds seeking food for their young.

Song bird populations are declining at the rate of one percent a year and have already plummeted fifty percent since the 1960’s. This is because our lawns have replaced their natural habitat. Good news is that the damage is reversible. We have over 40 million acres of lawn in the United States, or eight New Jerseys, that can be returned to forest or other natural habitats.

Most of our natural areas are small islands. It is possible to connect these preserves to one another by planting the same species of plants in our yards as are found in the local preserves. Now birds and other wildlife can move about and spread their genes to new populations, eliminating the problems caused by inbreeding.

Visit a local natural area and make a note of what grows there and decide which species you like. Buy some of these trees and plant them in your yard. Then later blend in native shrubs and wildflowers. When you notice the birds using your yard, you will become hooked and never look back to the lawn you left behind.