Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
Habitat loss has been identified by Audubon researchers as a principal factor in the 30% reduction of avian populations in North America over the past 50 years. This habitat loss includes the rainforests and jungles of Mexico and Central America; increases in cultivated lands (e.g. 98% of the arable land in Iowa is under cultivation); and the suburban sprawl surrounding many of the small to large cities in the United States and Canada. Many of the birders in SEVAS have likely noted the reductions in bird populations, both in baseline numbers and variety of species, which directly correlate with the loss of habitat.
This latter factor is very much in evidence in the State of Florida. Since 1970 the Florida population has grown from 6.8 million to an estimated 21.6 million in 2019. Accompanying this increase of nearly 15 million human beings are direct and indirect losses of ecosystems. Locally, we have seen the clearing of lands for new developments that reduce or drive out multiple species, from worms and beetles to rabbits, gopher tortoises, blue jays, rabbits and coyotes. Scraping the land down to the sand—the type of land clearing often applied in Florida—also reduces the many types of native plants that support a large diversity of life.
In Florida a single oaks tree, of either the white or red categories, provide food and habitat for dozens of species, from insects to birds. A study by the University of Florida IAFS, “The Values of Oaks to Wildlife” (2014; Holly K. Ober), noted the importance of native Florida oaks.
Oak leaves provide food to a diversity of invertebrates. Many species of insects feed on oak leaves, with several species of moth larvae feeding on nothing but the leaves of oaks. Many predatory spiders take advantage of the diversity of insects attracted to oak leaves by residing in these trees and feeding on these other insects. Some birds use a similar tactic, visiting clumps of Spanish moss on the branches of live oak trees to feed on the many insects that live in the clumps of moss. Other species of birds will search the surface of branches and leaf clusters for insects.
Undoubtedly the most valuable resource oaks provide for vertebrate wildlife is acorns. Acorns are one of the most important food items in the diets of a wide variety of animals…More than 100 species of vertebrate animals are known to consume acorns in the US, including mammals such as white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, gray foxes, red foxes, and wild hogs. Birds that feed on acorns include wild turkey, bobwhite quail, wood ducks, mallards, woodpeckers, crows, and jays.
Oaks support birds directly by providing acorns to species that are able to feed on them. They also shelter many types of insects which are an essential part of the diet of birds, both during migration and while they raise their young. It has been estimated that an oak tree may support 130 species of insects. And the native oaks are only one of many plants species providing food and shelter to avian populations in Florida.
Locally, we can help support our bird populations by planting those native species of trees, shrubs, vines and other plants that provide food and shelter for migrating bird populations and for wintertime and year-around residents. Beauty-Berry, Passion-flower, American Holly, Hornbeam, several types of Salvia, and Firecracker Bush are a few of the native species that provide food sources—directly and indirectly—and shelter for various species of birds.
The Audubon Plants for Birds program ( https://www.audubon.org/native-plants )is an on-line resource for those who want to plant native species that shelter and/or feed birds. The Florida Native Plant Society (https://www.fnps.org/) also has many resources birders can apply in their efforts to support bird populations. The local chapter of the FNPS is the Paw-Paw Chapter.
Pseudo-technological Phrase of the Day: “solar-powered freestanding carbon bioaccumulators” (aka trees)