DIGGING DEEPER

Avian Biodiversity on Organic Farms

Baby killdeer camouflaged in the onion field.

It is widely held belief amongst organic farmers that providing habitat for beneficial insects and diverse bird populations on our farms is a net gain for the wildlife and the farmers. Given the complexity of the ecosystem this can be a difficult hypothesis to test, but the Avian Biodiversity Team is up to the challenge.  For the last several years this team of veterinarians, ornithologists and entomologists from WSU, Cornell & OSU has partnered with organic farmers to better understand the complex and ever-changing ecosystems that we call farms and the preliminary research results are exciting.

This week Olivia Smith, a PhD candidate at WSU surveyed all the birds at our Grand Island Farm and at Luscher Farm and reported back…

“I think you have a few Brewer’s Blackbird nests in the SW corner of the Grand Island Road farm in the old allium patch. They were mobbing me while I was walking back there. I also saw a really adorable Killdeer family at Luscher today.”

At the Grand Island location, she also observed American Robin, Barn Swallow, Brewer’s Blackbird, European Starling, and Killdeer foraging in/above our row crops. She observed quite a few species in the cover crop/pasture areas: American Goldfinch, American Robin, Barn Swallow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, European Starling, Killdeer, White-crowned Sparrow, and Cliff Swallow. And she saw two Cedar Waxwings pulling wool off the wire of the pasture fence to build a nest.  At Luscher, there wasn’t as much activity but she saw European Starling, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, and Violet-green Swallow foraging in/above our crop fields.

The Avian Biodiversity Team just got an eOrganic article accepted about Identifying Bird Nests on Farm Structures. And last year they also published a series about beneficial insectivores. The articles are hyperlinked, so you can navigate to 2 others from the first article: https://articles.extension.org/pages/74435/identification-diet-and-management-of-swallows-and-swifts-common-on-organic-farms. In addition, they hosted a webinar in February that may be of interest: http://articles.extension.org/pages/74608/tools-for-farm-biodiversity-webinar.

We really appreciate the great work they are doing to help us better understand the complex web of critters that we share the farm with!