It’s All about the Caterpillars

Ash-throated Flycatcher with Caterpillar for Nestling [photo by Marlin Harms]

As we ease into the fall migration season, we are excited to see a greater diversity of birds. Many head off to see them at our local parks and preserves. According to the latest Sweet Springs Breeding Bird Survey, 57 species were seen, 36.8% of which were confirmed breeders at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. 

MCAS has been actively removing invasive species (like insidious Veldt Grass), and planting more native plants as a regular activity for many years. These two facts are related - Planting native plants enables native insects such as butterflies and moths to lay eggs and hatch into caterpillars, which are the main food source most birds use to feed their young. So, it’s all about the caterpillars and the plants needed to support them. This concept is clearly explained in Doug Tallamy’s book, ‘Nature’s Best Hope’, and in the following webinar sponsored by the Golden Gate Bird Alliance (see link below). 


According to the Golden Gate Bird Alliance, “Recent headlines about global insect declines and three billion fewer birds in North America are a bleak reality check about how ineffective our current landscape designs have been at sustaining the plants and animals that sustain us.” However, there is hope - Nature’s Best Hope - all of us!


When returning home, let’s look around at our landscapes. Are we providing plants that will support the food web in our neighborhoods? It’s easier than we think to add some plants to our gardens that will support what Doug Tallamy calls ‘Homegrown National Park’, the combined yards of everyone in the country planting at least some native plants, since our parks and preserves alone can’t do it. 


On the Calscape website, one can type in a zip code, and get a list of plants that would be perfect for that location. The California Native Plant Society - SLO and local nurseries such as Las Pilitas Nursery can assist in finding the best plants.


To learn more, consider watching this excellent webinar, ‘Nature’s Best Hope – Doug Tallamy’ sponsored by the Golden Gate Bird Alliance.


For those who don’t have time for the entire webinar (73 minutes), consider watching these two shorter sections:

14:00 - 24:00 The reasons to plant natives (spoiler - cute Carolina Chickadees used as an example)

33:00 - 43:00 The solution - What we can do