While farms across the world use pesticides and other chemicals to protect crops and increase food supplies, there may be other eco-friendly alternatives to achieve these same goals. In particular, new research from a team of scientists confirms that insectivorous cavity nesting birds  can help protect crops and encourage production without the use of chemicals.
"Insectivorous birds are often overlooked as sources of pest predation, however, they are likely providing pest control services in many agricultural fields, we just need to look for it", said University of California Berkeley’s Dr. Julie Jedlicka, who led the study.
Having previously studied bird-friendly coffee farms in Chiapas, Mexico, and Dr. Jedlicka wanted to see if she could take knowledge gained from her work in the tropics and apply it to agriculture as a whole in North America. Hence, having recently moved to California, Dr. Jedlicka was inspired by grape growers who had established bird nest boxes in their vineyards.
The subject: Western bluebirds, insectivorous birds found across the U.S. and Mexico. Previous research indicated that the birds have higher reproductive success when placed in natural cavities. To implement the study, the team selected a vineyard and placed a nest box in it, documenting where the birds spent most of their time.
The study found that the sites with nest boxes were better protected from potential pest infestations, and that there was no evidence that other grape-eating birds were attracted to the boxes.
Dr. Jedlicka commented: "I think it is important for the public to know that agricultural systems can provide habitat for wildlife. There are ways to design and structure [agricultural areas] so they are highly productive and beneficial for wildlife." Lastly, she went on to say: "It has been a black hole in the community ecology literature for a long time because prey items are so small and birds are so highly mobile. We are just beginning to gain the tools we need to answer these questions."