Do you enjoy seeing birds and butterflies? Populations of both are plummeting. Monarch butterfly numbers have dropped by 99%. The same thing is happening to all species of butterflies. Songbird numbers are also declining at an alarming rate.
The disappearances of these are related. Butterflies begin their lives as caterpillars and baby birds need lots of caterpillars. One nest of baby chickadees will eat between 4,000 and 9,000 caterpillars in the approximately two weeks before they leave the nest!
Butterflies and native plants evolved together. Although butterflies need nectar plants to survive, caterpillars need different plants to feed on. They also need places where their chrysalises can be protected so the caterpillars have a chance to change into butterflies. Many caterpillars only eat specific plants, and they are not the decorative plants found in residential and civic landscaping. There are lists of plants that caterpillars feed on at sites like calscape.org and bringingbackthenatives.net.
Indiscriminate spraying can kill all insects, creating dead zones for birds and butterflies, even in your neighbors’ yards since the chemicals drift and even if the plan is to just get rid of one kind of pest. Spot treating problem areas allows insects to live and feed birds in other areas of the yard. The loss of bees and butterflies from spraying means a loss of pollinators for fruits and vegetables. To help we must be tolerant of nature happening in our yards. A sterile world without birds or butterflies would be a sad world indeed.
If most homeowners and public agencies planted parts of their yards and open spaces with native plants that are caterpillar-food sources, we could see a gradual increase in both butterfly and bird populations. Native plants also have the advantage of being drought tolerant and needing less maintenance than regular landscaping. Public agencies can plant non-park open spaces with native plants instead of the sterile lawns or useless bunch grass. Planting native plants in public areas would be great community service projects for schools, Scouts and other service groups.
To learn more, watch the beautiful and informative YouTube talk by Prof. Doug Tallamy from the University of Delaware on the Bringing Back the Natives Virtual Garden Tour or the summary. You can find the link to both videos at bringingbackthenatives.net.