Bluebirds and Brown Bats and Toads, Oh My!
First published on garden.org on June 22, 2006, by Suzanne DeJohn
I saw my first Japanese beetle yesterday, which means that hordes of these and other plant-eating insects won't be far behind. What's a gardener to do? There are all sorts of insecticide sprays available, but if you shy away from applying too many pesticides, as I do, then you'll need to take a multifaceted approach to managing these garden pests. One often overlooked option is to call in the reinforcements by inviting insect-eating wildlife into your landscape.
We are blessed with an extraordinary population of toads at our house. (Well, it seems extraordinary.) My yard is filled with the habitat they love -- lots of moist, shady spots and loose bark mulch so they can burrow. We also are near a stream where toads can lay their eggs.
They nestle into the moist potting soil of my transplants every evening. They also, oddly enough, hop around on our porch at night, often stopping in front of our glass doors and -- I swear this is true -- looking in. This can be a little unnerving, frankly. I tell myself that they are drawn to the light because their potential insect meals gather there too, and that they aren't really peeping toads. "Toads are good," I remind myself.
How can you entice these birds to call your yard home? General guidelines include providing a variety of vegetation, including trees and shrubs, to provide both cover and food. Many birds eat fruit, pollen, and nectar in addition to insects, so providing an enticing habitat is as important, if not more so, than setting out nesting boxes or feeders.
Also, different birds nest in different ways. For example, some nest in cavities, others on a flat surface. Some will only build nests in deciduous trees. Woodpeckers excavate dead trees to make room for their nests. So provide lots of opportunities for nest-building in your landscape. A source of water is also a magnet for birds thirsty after a bug-filled meal. And remember that any insecticide you spray on your plants will likely end up in birds' bellies, so use sprays judiciously, if at all.
Insects and Spiders
Add plants that attract beneficial insects to lure them into your landscape: members of the aster family, which also includes daisies, calendula, cosmos, and zinnias; and members of the carrot family, such as dill, lovage, parsely, anise, and fennel. (Allow the herbs to produce flowers to attract the beneficials.) And always, always identify an insect before smashing, squashing, spraying, or otherwise sending it to the hereafter.
Oh, and as a person with a headful of unruly hair, I must add that it's a myth that bats are prone to getting caught in people's hair. Foraging bats may swoop low over your head, but they're looking for insects, not a human roost. And their erratic flight isn't due to intoxication, but rather to the agile pursuit of their quarry. They won't bump into your head by accident. That being said, a recent fashion magazine has announced that ponytails are back in vogue, so even though I know better than to worry, I'll still take pains to be fashionably coiffed if I go bat-watching.
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