Audubon Magazine (March-April 2013 issue) reminds us “Why Birds Matter.” Of course birds have intrinsic value: to watch an eagle in flight is a thrill; to hear the whistle-like song of a marbled murrelet echo through the dark forest is rare (listen here); to know that birds are descendants of dinosaurs is humbling.
We rely on birds for the “ecosystem services” that they provide. Pest control is one bird ecosystem service. In 19th century Utah, crickets destroyed the wheat crop for two consecutive years. The third year brought seagulls – lots of them – who gobbled up the crickets.
More recently, coffee plants in Jamaica have turned to the black-throated blue warbler and the American redstart to minimize crop damage caused by the coffee berry borer.
And closer to the redwoods, more than 1,000 bluebird nest boxes have been installed in Napa Valley vineyards. Western bluebirds are making themselves at home there and consuming blue-green sharpshooters, insects that spread a bacteria causing a deadly grape blight.
The economic benefit of these bird activities is substantial. Every coffee plant and grape vine means income for the farmer, who can spend that money on… just about anything, including a visit to the redwoods. (See a previous blog about the local economic benefit of visits to the redwood parks.)
Can you identify bird-related ecosystem services in the redwoods?