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September 25th, 2017

Guest Opinion: Of Plants, Birds and Bees

By Corrina Parnapy
Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District

The first day of spring has arrived and it is time to consider the relationship between what we plant in our yards and fields and the pollinator species we rely on. Be it stunning butterflies, buzzing bees, or beautiful songbirds, they rely on the flowering species and trees we plant.

Every spring, songbirds migrate from their winter rest to breeding grounds in Vermont. They need a nutritious source of food for energy and habitat to raise their young. The most nutritious forms of plants are native species.

In the spring and summer, birds are looking for protein-rich insects to help them develop strong eggs and feed their growing and demanding chicks. Research shows that native plants provide the most nutritious insects and fruit. Silky dogwood, red oak, speckled alder, and paper birch harbor caterpillars, flies and spiders hiding in nooks and holes. Birds eat these nutritious bugs and offer them to their chicks. Many birds also depend on fruits and berries from native plants like dogwood, black elderberry, and winterberry. These possess high fat content which give them energy for their all-night flights south in the fall. The insects that birds rely on don’t find the same quality of food in the introduced, non-native plants like burning bush and barberry. These species generally have hollow stalks and provide less nutritional value.

In the spring, bees and butterflies also emerge and begin the tireless work of pollinating Vermont’s verdant landscape. Bees are declining in dramatic numbers across the nation due to an array of causes such as disease epidemics, pesticide use, and habitat loss; particularly the loss of wildflowers. Between 60 to 80 percent of wild plants in Vermont depend on bees for pollination, including flowering trees, herbs, and shrubs such as red-osier dogwood, blueberries, and apples. There are 270 native bee species in Vermont, and research has demonstrated that wild bees prefer to forage on the nectar and pollen from native plants like columbine, coneflower, and aster.

To help birds and other pollinators, you can incorporate native plants into landscaping practices such as raingardens, butterfly gardens, riparian buffers or simply plant them in your yard to provide habitat and color. There is a risk that using non-native and invasive plants can create “ecological dead-zones”, which are useless to birds. Worse yet we could create an “ecological trap”, or an area that looks good to birds, but when they try to live in the area become worn out and run down due to lack of adequate nutrients. Fortunately there are many sources of native plants in Vermont. One is the upcoming Winooski NRCD Tree & Shrub sale.

The Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District (WNRCD) hosts an annual tree, shrub and perennial sale as a service to residents of the District. We offer a wide selection of species for home, garden, and conservation projects. We offer several species of locally sourced trees, shrubs and perennials. All proceeds from this fundraiser are used to develop and implement on-the-ground projects that protect our Natural Resources including; riparian and shoreline buffers, stormwater mitigation projects, fish habitat restoration, culvert replacements, and so much more.

Place your orders now for the Winooski NRCD’s 34th Annual Tree Sale. Visit the District’s website for an order form and detailed information on the available selection at: www.winooskinrcd.org.

In addition to a great selection of native plants, fruit trees, and berries, this year we will also offer Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout to stock your private pond. For more information on native plants or other natural resource related projects that you can participate in, please email: info@winooskinrcd.org

The Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District is one of 14 conservation districts throughout Vermont. It encompasses all of Chittenden and Washington County as well as parts of Orange County (Orange, Williamstown and Washington). The district relies on grants and individual donations to complete its conservation work. The WNRCD focuses its resources on completing conservation projects within the areas of agricultural assistance, forestland enhancement, urban conservation and watershed stewardship.

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