Farm Focus: Winter Bird Survey
I recently had the chance to talk with Kyle Marsh, partner biologist at Blue Point Conservation Science about a bird survey he did on Frog Hollow Farm in December.Kyle’s work normally takes him to range- lands in the North Bay but Farmer Al and Rachel, our resident soil health expert, asked him to come to Frog Hollow Farm to assess the health of our overall ecosystem. Kyle’s bird count helps shed light on the overall health of the farm’s environment and will allow us to make educated choices about how to best care for our land.
For the survey, Kyle walked the property for about 2 hours and recorded every bird he heard and saw during that time. Since he is used to surveying on more open and wild ranch land he wasn’t sure what to expect but he was pleasantly surprised by the quantity (364 individuals) and diversity (29 species) of birds found in our orchards. And, while the quantity of birds is important, what is most significant was the wide variety of species he encountered. Farmer foes like dreaded European Starling, an aggressive invasive species, can tip the balance on an ecosystem's overall health.
Kyle found evidence of large raptors like hawks and owls who hunt tree-root-eating gophers. We try to invite as many owls as possible by putting owl boxes around the orchard for them to live and hunt from. There were also plenty of smaller birds like Black Phoebes and Bushtits who eat insects. Kyle even saw 3 Loggerhead Shrikes, a species who sometimes hunt by pinning their lizard prey on barbed wire because they don't have talons of their own!
It is a good sign that our land can support this bustling population of birds. Different birds need different habitats and our diversified farm provides something for everybody! Our citrus trees, grapevines, stone fruit trees, owl boxes, native plants and farm buildings provide a diversity of habitat good for supporting a wide range of birds throughout the year.
So why do we want birds to attract birds to Frog Hollow Farm? While some farms might see birds as competition for our prized fruit, we know that birds provide lots of important services that mean we don't have to use as many chemicals on our land. Just like having beneficial bacteria and fungi in our soil to keep pathogens in check, having lots of the right kind of birds in our orchards helps manage the population of the pests that pose the biggest threat to our crops. By working with our feather friends everybody wins.
Kyle will be back this summer to check for evidence of birds raising their young at Frog Hollow Farm. Luckily there is evidence in the trees from years past so things look good!