Down On The Farm: Why birds are a farmer’s best friend

Rocky Casillas blog, featured, news

Birds are often seen as a nuisance to crops. They scour fields for seeds or pick the berries off trees. However, an overwhelming number of bird species can be quite beneficial to have on the farm. Almost all birds feed their chicks insects during the breeding season (spring) – a time when plants are small and pests are emerging.

The benefits birds provide when it comes to pest control, far outweigh any chemical sprays. Species like sparrows, can collect over 135 insects to feed their young in a single day, while barn owls can consume over 1,300 field mice, voles and shrews in one year. Birds can also help out your livestock by taking care of those bothersome ticks and flies.

Birds can be a farmer’s best friend if given a chance. According to Wild Farm Alliance, increasing the diversity of birds on agriculture lands can greatly reduce pest problems and grow crop yields. A few ways to invite birds to your land is by planting windbreaks or hedgerows and installing bird boxes and perches.

At Sharing Our Roots, we’ve started cataloging birds and mapping where on the Farm we see them. We do this by conducting “point counts” from April to August. A point count consists of standing in one spot and counting any birds seen or heard within a defined radius from where you’re standing. Point counts are a very simple, yet effective way to document bird presence.

On our Farm we have five “point count” locations spread out across the 100 acres. We collect information from birds seen within 20m of each point count (in all directions) for three minutes. Some points are in the middle of a field, others near water or the edge of woods. To date, we’ve identified 50 bird species, including 40 songbirds, three raptors and seven waterfowl.

There are several reasons why understanding bird diversity on our Farm is important to us:

  • Birds are indicators of ecosystem health and can warn us when there are issues needing our attention (e.g. habitat degradation, pollution, disease/plague).
  • Birds provide us with pest control, seed dispersal, pollination and several other ecosystem services.
  • Bird populations are declining and some species observed on the Farm, like the Dickcissel, Savannah sparrow, Clay-colored sparrow and Yellow-headed Blackbird are either rare or of special concern to Dakota County.
  • Birds on farmland can demonstrate the intersection between agriculture and conservation, and the role farmers can play to protect native species.
  • Birds can help tell the story about the importance of transitioning to regenerative organic farming for the health of our communities and the future of our planet.

In 2022, Sharing Our Roots will begin installing bird boxes to provide species with more nesting habitat on the Farm. We’ll also continue our point count monitoring. Stay tuned for our Bird Report this winter!

If you’re interested in learning more about the birds on your land, below are some excellent resources to help get you started.

Wild Farm Alliance

Bird Breeding Atlas

IFAS Extension

USDA Guide to Point Counts

The Sharing Our Roots Farm was established in 2017 as a home for regenerative food and farm innovation, demonstration, field research, and training. Its founding vision included a commitment to advancing social and economic equity through access to land and training for aspiring immigrant and emerging farmers. 

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