Songbirds - pro or con?

by Norma
(Red Deer, Alberta)

I’m having a ‘discussion’ with my husband about why we would want to encourage birds to visit and stay in our garden – he thinks they are dirty pests, with no redeeming features, but I think they must have more positive attributes. Can you help me to rebut his argument? (I think this is related to plants, as without birds, what would our gardens be??)

Drought Smart Plants reply:

I’m probably not going to be the best person to show equal sides of this argument – I’m firmly in the ‘you can never have too many birds’ camp.

In my opinion, their cheery songs, flashing wings and interesting activities are a blessing to my garden, and the fact that they eat so many pest species of insects, especially when raising their young is a bonus.

In their overwintering homes in places like South America, in many places their habitat is dwindling, if not outright lost completely.

It shows in the alarming reduction of some returning birds like barn swallows, who used to nest in huge numbers under bridges, on the eaves of houses, and in their namesake, barns.

Although a little messy, and usually carriers of some parasites that are a bit unpleasant like bird lice, their swooping flight, pretty squeaky songs and sheer exuberance made them a pleasure to watch.

One place that routinely saw hundreds of nesting pairs now has barely three or four breeding pairs.

This doesn’t bode well for an explosion in the populations of mosquitoes and other flying insects. Without the hungry mouths of a like number of baby birds, this could quite well become a major problem, especially with West Nile Virus spreading like wildfire. (This virus is spread by mosquitoes)

Sadly, there is no protection for many songbirds – neither in their winter homes where habitat loss is reaching a catastrophic level for many creatures including birds; or on their long journey northward to nest, where the dangers of high rise buildings, cell phone towers, and other hazards wreak havoc on the populations; nor once they arrive and get eaten by the neighbors cat. Window strikes, predators and poisoning all take their toll too.

In light of that, what’s a bit of a mess from their nest building efforts and family-raising? Their eagerness to keep on going, in the face of huge odds just makes me admire songbirds all the more for their determination and persistence.

I hope you win your argument, and your husband will capitulate and put up nesting boxes for the songbirds in your garden.

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