how do birds help trees

by Gilbert A Smith, ISA Certified Master Arborist

Everyone is aware that birds depend on trees for cover, perches, hunting areas, places to nest, and places to raise their young. It’s a given that trees require birds; did you know that? Birds also exhibit this symbiosis, or mutualism, in addition to worms, ants, humans, and trees. A woodpecker is searching a tree for insects that might be damaging the tree when you hear its knock knock knock. Experts have estimated that approximately 2017% of the Emerald Ash Borer is consumed by woodpeckers. Sadly, that won’t stop the Borer from destroying our ash trees. The borer has gone feral because it was introduced without its natural predators, insects, and diseases, and as a result, the number of wood peckers has increased dramatically.

Cardinal photo by Lesley Bruce Smith

You know what a meticulous hunter looks like if you’ve ever watched a Chickadee search the tree branches for insects. Hopping methodically up and down each branch, it pokes its beak into tiny cracks in the bark. It makes sense that chickadees are thought to eat 1000 bugs a day. When they are rearing their young in the spring, most birds require the protein that bugs provide. The birds really have to do this for the trees because they are unable to slap or scratch bitten insects. If beneficial insects and birds weren’t present to regulate them, bad bugs would quickly become overpopulated and destroy every tree.

Consequently, if we apply a non-selective insecticide to a tree, killing both beneficial and harmful insects, the bird species that consumes them becomes hungry and its numbers plummet. Then, because it lacks natural controls, the bad bug population typically explodes even worse than it did before the spray. Because of this, using non-organic spraying techniques should only be used as a last resort. However, if you give your birds seeds and suet and provide them with places to nest, your trees will also thrive.

Birds Who Plant Trees

how do birds help trees

Forrest. Courtesy of Arnaud Mesureur, Unsplash

Even though roughly 50% of the planet’s land mass is still covered in forest, less than half of the world’s trees have disappeared since humans first learned to use an axe, and we will eventually need them back. Rewilding is thought to be essential to this, and it entails the assistance of our assiduous avian friends.

In 2015, a British ecologist named Thomas Crowther rallied a group of people at Yale University in Connecticut using satellite imaging technology, and they physically counted the number of trees in specific US regions.

After superimposing those regions on corresponding regions throughout the world, Crowther and his colleagues came to the conclusion that there are about 3 trillion trees on Earth. Although this appears to be encouraging, the study also discovered that the number of trees worldwide has decreased by 2046% since the dawn of human civilization.

The world’s forest ecosystems are vital to its biodiversity, but they are seriously threatened.

Field tree. Courtesy of JuergenPM, Pixabay.

Approximately 15 billion trees are being taken down annually, but only 5 billion are being planted again. If we carry on in this manner, there won’t be any trees left at all in 300 years due to the net loss of 10 billion. Although it may seem far off, that isn’t the case, especially when considering how ecosystems are currently struggling.

Following the findings of Crowther’s reputable study, numerous nations have pledged to plant millions of trees. But it’s not just the quantity – it’s which types. There is still a great deal of research to be done on how to accomplish this enormous task: should we plant billions of saplings, promote passive regeneration, or do both at once?

The Jays have it

The area’s closeness to ancient woodland, whose resident jays consistently carried acorns from their untouched home back and forth every winter, is the key to this astonishingly quick regeneration. This organic process is essential to rewilding, which is currently acknowledged by the UN as the most progressive approach to conservation and as being necessary to achieve the massive restoration of natural ecosystems.

Eurasian jay swallowing an acorn, jay’s favorite meal. Courtesy ofhedera. baltica, Flickr.

Jays are currently being hailed as the possible solution to the UK’s commitment to its replanting targets, despite being regularly persecuted with shooting parties and considered by landowners as pests and unwanted predators on other birds. According to estimates, the advantages of letting jays thrive and colonize woodlands greatly exceed the negative effects of their predation on the environment.

The United Kingdom is among the least forested countries in Europe, making up only 2013% of the continent’s C3%A2%C2%80%C2%99s%2038%%20average. Rewilding subsequent sites with jays and other seed dispersal agents like rodents and other mammals could potentially shorten timescales considerably without the need for expensive management practices or unsightly plastic tubing used in planting schemes.

Nonetheless, this method is not new in Europe; since the 1950s, German foresters have simply been setting out buckets of acorns, cracking open a beer, and letting the jays do what they always do, rather than replanting oak trees. Jays are thought to be able to replant up to 1,600 oak trees per acre.

FAQ

What is the relationship between birds and trees?

Trees and birds have a commensalistic relationship; the birds benefit from having a place to build their nests, while the trees are unharmed and not impacted by the bird’s presence. Mutualism is when two species sharing the same environment both benefit from their interactions.

What do birds do in trees?

Birds retreat to trees and bushes as protection from predators and to rest and roost. And directly or indirectly, plants provide all the foods that birds eat. Seeds, nuts, and fruit help sustain many birds all year long, and some species also nibble nutritious plant buds or sip flower nectar.

How do birds help plant new trees and bushes?

Birds help plants, too! Hummingbirds help pollinate flowers so that they can produce seeds that are needed to grow more plants. Blue Jays and some other birds actually plant seeds. They collect and hide the seeds to eat later but don’t return for them all, so the seeds sprout and grow into new plants.

Do birds fertilize trees?

The birds help fertilize plants in the same way as any other pollinator—by transferring pollen (via their bills) from one flower to another as they flit between plants feeding on nectar. Bird pollination mainly occurs in tropical regions, where they help pollinate a few food crops, including bananas, papaya and nutmeg.