Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scale Insects - Natural Control

by Donna L. Watkins

Creating a bird-friendly garden is not only a treat to watch the beautiful birds and learn more about our lives through what they can teach us, but it sure benefits the gardener also. When you get lots of birds in your yard, they will eat lots of insects.

© Donna L. Watkins - Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Black Willow
I am almost to the point now that I look forward to the cottony scale that comes at the beginning of Fall here in central Virginia. It seems to cover the thin branches of our large pyracantha bushes (aka Fire Thorn).

Of course, seeing any thing on our plants that doesn't really belong there doesn't just thrill me, but since this particular insect feeds not only our resident population, but also migratory ones, it almost feels like looking for a "good harvest" of food for them by watching for the cottony scale infestation.

The year I realized that something ate this stuff was the first year we got it on the pyracantha. We don't get it on anything else. I had looked up some natural methods of getting rid of it but some ingredient didn't make me very comfy about using the recipe, so I was stalling, hoping that God would send in something to take it away. We had already seen infestations bring in a crew of birds that finished the problem off in a week's time, but I admit I wasn't hoping in faith.

Anyway, I was sitting outside with my camera one day and saw a hyper bird hopping around the pyracantha bushes, so I raised my camera to get a picture since I assumed it was a warbler the way it acted and it was Fall migration. When I cropped the photo to enlarge the bird's image I realized its beak was covered in cottony scale, so it must've been eating them. I identified the bird as a Pine Warbler in error at the time.

With its return this year I had been seeing what I thought to be the bird but warblers are small and hyper dancers so I wasn't getting a good look at it or a camera shot that I could blow up to see. Today I was in the garden and one came right up to me on one of the pyracantha bushes. I was trimming the butterfly bush that intertwines with it at this time of year since it's grown so full. It seemed she was telling me that I was in her dining area and did not have reservations.

When I went inside to ID the bird to see if it was a Pine Warbler, I realized it was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, as was the bird that I had mistakenly identified 5 years before. I couldn't find any info on Pine Warblers being interested in cottony scale, but the Ruby-crowned Kinglet was definitely an eater of this stuff.

Doing a bit of study I have found out that there are a number of species that enjoy cottony scale and seven (7) of them are resident in our habitat with two (2) of them migrating through. How exciting to be able to watch the habitat you create working! Sometimes I wonder if we have a particular problem simply because the bird or bug or whatever eats it is in need of more food that particular year, so I watch closely and wait for God's Creation to balance it all out.

Here's a list of birds that feed upon scale insects. The check-marked ones are the ones we have:

√ Hairy woodpecker

√ Northern downy woodpecker

Red-cockaded woodpecker

Arctic three-toed woodpecker

√ Yellow-bellied woodpecker

√ Red-headed woodpecker

√ Blue jay

Orchard oriole

Baltimore oriole

√ Cedar waxwing

Townsend warbler

√ Tufted titmouse

Bridled titmouse

√ Carolina chickadee

√ Ruby-crowned k.mglet

Varied thrush

Is the kinglet migrating through your area now also? Read more information on the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

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