Lately, almost every time I walk out my porch door, I startle a pair of catbirds. They are usually right next to the door, which is unusual behavior for a pair of birds.
You might think that they have a nest nearby. They don’t. What they are doing is harvesting caterpillars from the mugo pine next to my porch door. I am so grateful.
It used to be that every year I had to treat that pine with insecticidal soap. It was the only insecticide that I used on my property all year round and it bothered me. Whenever the caterpillars (which are actually a type of sawfly larva) would show up each year, I would point to the plant and call out, “hey birds! Fresh meat!” So I am grateful that I can stop yelling before one of my neighbors has me carted off.
Another way that birds are useful is that they eat grubs–because again, what are grubs but caterpillars? Birds need to consume a lot of caterpillars and they need to feed them to their young. I don’t have a problem with any Japanese type beetles because of my organic gardening. The birds know that they can forage all they like on my lawn and in my gardens. In return, I don’t worry about those pesky beetles ravaging my plants.
I generally discuss this concept when I lecture or write about organic gardening or about simplifying the garden. After all, it is easier to let nature help you garden than to think we know so much better.
Finally, birds just make life in the garden more interesting and enjoyable. They sing beautiful songs, nest in our trees and shrubs to raise their young and even occasionally get into turf battles. These feathered companions just make the garden better.
The birds who live in the Santa Clara Valley now are very different from those whom I remember from years ago. Mulberry trees used to live on the edges of orchards to distract birds from the stonefruits, mostly apricots and prunes, within the orchards. Dovecotes supposedly attracted martens to chase away the birds who damaged the orchard crops. Italian cypress supposedly did the same within the few vineyards. Anyway, I doubt that many of those birds still live there. More urban birds have moved in.