Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pine Warbler Is One Natural Predator For Cottony Scale

Every now and then we have a bush that gets cottony scale which is not a good thing. This year our pyracantha bushes have had a heavy infestation of cottony scale.

There are lots of chemicals to kill these critters and there are some more natural products also recommended. I always wonder what benefit something is that we may not know about, but it's hard to just let things be "eaten up." The bushes were heavily fruited so I kept thinking that maybe the fruit would not get to ripen and all those berries would be lost.

As the cottony scale multiplied, the berries continued to ripen and turn bright orange, so that seemed to indicate it wasn't killing the bush or the berries.

Today Randal and I were in the garden and saw a small bird dart into the pyracantha bushes. We both knew it was something we don't usually see. He went for the camera while I kept my eye on the bird, and then another that joined him. After many photographs, I identified it as a First Year Pine Warbler. The interesting thing is that it was eating the cottony scale.

One of the photographs shows him with a grin on his cottony scale face. This was an exciting event for Randal and me because we realized we would not have seen these birds if we'd sprayed to kill the scale.

Those who use chemical sprays not only kill the scale but contaminate the berries and bush. Randal wondered whether birds know not to eat from a bush that has been sprayed. Do their instincts tell them not to visit certain yards because chemicals are there? I doubt it since we know that many birds die from the poisons. It's not a research project I will do. I like to learn about the more exciting and positive topics.

The more we add to our experience list with such events as this the more I am grateful that we've chosen to take a "nature's balance" approach to our gardening for wildlife. The rewards have been so great and so far, we've never lost a plant doing it this way. We may not have perfect specimens, but maybe perfect is not in wildlife vocabulary.

The insects eaten by the Pine Warbler include grasshoppers, grouse locusts, moths and their larvae, beetles, ants and other Hymenoptera, bugs, flies, and scale insects. It has been known to eat the cotton boll weevil, aphids, and the eggs and larvae of other insects. This bird obtains most of its food from pine trees, so it's obviously very useful in keeping a pine forest healthy.

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