Birds: An Essential Player in the Agroecosystem Balance

Birds An Essential Player in the Agroecosystem Balance
Sustainability

Florence Estublier

MSc Biology Student at Leiden University, specialized in Biodiversity & Sustainability

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The Crucial Role of Birds in Our Ecosystem: Benefits, Monitoring, and Conservation

How Birds Shape our Environment

Birds are the only living descendants of dinosaurs, and they have evolved over millions of years to inhabit almost every place on the planet. Over 10,000 species worldwide have shown a wide diversity of adaptations, behavior, and ecological roles, living from lush rainforests to barren deserts and high mountain peaks.

The world of agriculture has considered birds mainly an enemy of crop production. Large bird populations can cause significant damage to crops, feeding on freshly sown seeds or fruits (ranging from 10 to even 100% yield losses). Cereal crops, followed by fruit trees/crops, are usually the most vulnerable to bird attacks, especially during the dough stage. Farmers usually use nets and other practices to protect their high-value crops, especially during fruit maturation. However, birds have multiple benefits for the agroecosystem, such as bioindicators, promoting biodiversity and pollination, and pest management. As a result, studying and protecting them can boost the sustainability of the agroecosystem with direct and indirect benefits for the farmers.

Why are birds so important?

Birds play a big ecological role through the pollination of plants, including crops and wild plants, and seed dispersal for plant reproduction. Insectivorous birds help manage insect populations, reducing the need for chemical pesticides in crop management. In addition, birds can help control rodents, which is very important for the agricultural world, both in fields and storage units. Avifauna contributes to nutrient cycling by easing organic matter decomposition. This enriches soils and promotes plant growth.

Next, avian species are sensitive to habitat changes and are therefore considered good indicators (bioindicators) of ecosystem health. A diverse and healthy bird population often reflects a balanced and well-functioning ecosystem. Thus, we should monitor and protect the bird population to preserve genetic diversity and other species.

How to monitor the bird population?

There are different ways to collect data on bird populations. This is valuable to track changes over time, assess habitat health, and inform conservation efforts. Various methods are described below:

  • Bird identification apps: Identifying birds in the field using apps like Merlin Bird ID, iBird, or Audubon Bird Guide. These apps use photos, sounds, and range maps to help you identify bird species. In this way, you could share your findings through, for instance, a poster (just like the one below!).
  • Bird feeders and baths: Installing feeders and baths in your backyard or outdoor space can help you observe and record the birds that visit.
  • Bird surveys and counts

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Point counts: Choosing specific locations and counting all birds you see or hear within a specified radius or time frame.

Area counts: Estimating bird numbers within defined areas such as forests, grasslands, or wetlands.

Transect surveys: Walking predetermined routes and recording all birds observed along the way.

  • Citizen science programs

eBird: Contributing sightings to a global database managed by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology and Audubon Society.

Christmas Bird Count (CBC): Participating in annual winter bird censuses organized by Audubon chapters across the Americas.

Breeding Bird Survey (BBS): Conducting roadside bird surveys along designated routes during the breeding season.

Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC): Count birds in your backyard or local area for a specified period and report your observations online.

  • Nest monitoring

Next box programs: Install and monitor nest boxes regularly to track nesting success and population trends of cavity-nesting birds.

Nest surveys: Searching for and monitoring bird nests in natural habitats, recording nesting activity and outcomes.

  • Acoustic monitoring

Bioacoustic recorders: Deploying automated recording devices to capture bird vocalizations, then analyzing recordings for species identification.

Nocturnal flight calls: Using specialized microphones to record bird calls during nocturnal migration events.

  • Bird banding and marking

Bird banding: Capturing birds using mist nets or traps, then affixing unique numbered bands to their legs for future identification.

Color marking: Applying colored leg bands or tags to individual birds for visual identification without recapture.

How to protect and boost their populations?

First, it is essential to preserve natural habitats such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands from development and destruction. Protected areas and wildlife preserves should be established and supported.

Second, restoring degraded habitats helps to provide suitable niches for birds. This can be achieved by engaging in reforestation and afforestation projects and restoring wetlands and riparian zones. Also, removing invasive plant species and reintroducing native plants helps protect indigenous avian species. Third, bird-friendly spaces can be created by planting local trees, shrubs, and flowers, as well as providing food and shelter. Bird feeders, baths, and nesting boxes are valuable as well.

Sustainable agriculture should be promoted to reduce pesticide and herbicide use. Habitat diversity can be enhanced on farmlands by implementing agroforestry and regenerative practices such as conservation tillage. Maintaining hedgerows and buffer strips around the field provides bird habitats and corridors.

Next, supporting sustainable forestry helps maintain habitat structure. This includes selective logging, avoiding clear-cutting, and implementing forest management practices to preserve dead trees and snags. These elements are valuable for cavity-nesting birds.

Additionally, conservation policies and legislation protecting bird habitats and promoting biodiversity can be advocated for and supported. Engaging in community planning efforts that consider wildlife corridors and green spaces is beneficial, too. Additionally, it helps to get involved with local and national conservation organizations that focus on bird conservation and habitat protection.

Notably, raising awareness by educating others on the importance of bird biodiversity and the threats birds face is important. Birdwatching events, workshops, and educational programs could be organized or participated in. During birdwatching walks, experienced birders can help identify species and share knowledge about bird behavior and ecology. As mentioned above, citizen science is crucial in monitoring bird populations. Scientists can more easily track bird populations and trends by contributing data on bird sightings and behavior. In addition, threats can be reduced by mitigating collisions. Scientific research on bird ecology, behavior, and conservation can be supported.

Altogether, as individuals and communities, we can significantly impact the preservation and enhancement of biodiversity. Each action contributes to a healthier environment for birds and, in the long run, all wildlife and people.

Further reading

What is biodiversity and why is it important?

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