Living on Earth: BirdNote®: insects are essential


A white-eyed vireo grabs a caterpillar in its beak. (Photo: Kelly Colgan Azar, CC)

Insects sustain our ecosystems, providing food and pollinating 90% of all plants, but their numbers have halved in the past 50 years. However, growing certain plants directly benefits birds and helps insects run the natural world. BirdNote®’s Mary McCann has the story.

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BASCOMB: This time of year, maybe a lot of us curse biting insects.
But as BirdNote’s Mary McCann reports, our executioners are a delight.
for the birds.


Insects are essential

Written by Bob Sundström

It’s BirdNote.

[Wood Thrush song in background, followed by Nashville Warbler song,…, 0.00-04]

MCCANN: A tiny Nashville Warbler flies toward its nest, a large caterpillar clutched in its beak. Almost every small bird in North America, from this warbler to chickadees to thrushes, raise their young on insects, especially insect larvae like this juicy caterpillar.

[Rose-breasted Grosbeak song,…, 0.30-.34]

MCCANN: Insects support our ecosystems, and not just as a food source. They also pollinate 90% of all plants. And without plants at the heart of the food web, life on earth would simply collapse. As naturalist EO Wilson said, insects are “the little things that run the world”.

Although insects are small, easily overlooked and often reviled, most are beneficial. But their numbers have halved in the past 50 years, so helping to foster insects is now essential. One practical way to help is to grow native plants that provide food and shelter for insects like caterpillars.

For example, in the eastern United States and the Midwest, the button supports 18 different species of caterpillars and also provides food for birds in the form of nectar and seeds.

Growing such plants directly benefits birds and helps insects keep the natural world going.
Contact a local master gardener to help you find what’s best for your area. Start with
I am Mary McCann.

[Rose-breasted Grosbeak song,…, 0.30-.34]

Main producer: John Kessler
Production Manager: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Bird sounds provided by the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Nashville Warbler ML 250158611 M Medler
Rose-breasted Grosbeak ML 248683961 J McGowan
The BirdNote theme was composed and performed by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2021 BirdNote March 2021 Narrator: Mary McCann
ID# garden-13-2021-03-16 garden-13
[primary source is Douglas W. Tallamy, Nature’s Best Hope. Timber Press, 2019]
[quote from E.O. Wilson, “The Little Things That Run the World.” Conservation Biology 1 (4); 344-46]

BASCOMB: For photos, go to the Living on Earth website, loe dot org.


Listen to this story on the BirdNote® website

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