By Science Outreach Intern Katrina McCollough
Issue Spotlight - Invasive Species
What are invasive species and why are they a problem? Put simply, “an invasive species is an organism that causes ecological or economic harm in a new environment where it is not native.” The National Ocean Service has a 30-second video explaining the issue of invasive species, focusing specifically on our oceans, but it can be applied to what’s happening here on land as well. Invasive species are typically introduced to a new area by humans, and no matter if they are introduced accidentally or intentionally, they almost always cause problems. The issue is that some invasive species are really good at adapting to local climates and can push out native plants and animals, potentially driving them to extinction. This is especially scary for endemic organisms, plants and animals that have specifically adapted to survive in a certain (usually geographically small) area.
Why are invasive species an issue for birds? Invasive plant species can replace the native plants birds need for food, shelter, and nesting and may cause declines in the insects bird species depend on. Even worse, some of these plants can be toxic to birds. Invasive insects like red fire ants can also be dangerous to ground-nesting birds, and invasive species such as the red fox can put intense pressure on native bird survival. Invasive birds can displace native birds in dwindling nesting habitat and can bring parasites and exotic diseases such as the West Nile virus. (Kudzu invasive species vine photo by Scott Ehard)
What We Can Do
What can you do to help? Take a look at the plants and animals around you and learn more about California natives. We have so many invasive species that have become a part of our landscape: from ice plants to eucalyptus, invasive species have made a home here and there’s not a ton we can do about them. But there’s hope! So many programs, including county and state parks, are recognizing the importance of protecting our native species. There are many events going on where you can help your local parks by planting native plants and weeding out the invasive species. SFBBO and our partners have regular monthly events called Planting for the Pollinators that does just that. You can also support our state parks by donating, volunteering, and visiting, your entrance fees go towards paying for employees and park maintenance. And of course, as was mentioned earlier, plant native plants! The California Native Plant Society has a great list of California natives organized by types and benefits, plus some amazing native gardening webinars.
Also, did you know that a lot of invasive plants and weeds are edible? They’re not totally useless! Now, don’t get the idea to just run out and eat some grass, but there are identifying applications for plants like PictureThis that can help you identify plants around you and learn what is edible and what isn’t. In the Bay Area we have fields upon fields of wild mustard and wild radish, both delicious. There are a lot of resources for foragers that should be read if you are interested in checking this route out, and you can learn a lot from foragers on Instagram and TikTok even.
The Mission of Perry's Journey - A Message from the Illustrator
It’s important we understand that just because birds can fly over it all, doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by what’s going on down here on the ground. The population of North American birds has dropped by nearly 30% since the 1970s, that is a total of almost 3 billion birds. Gone.
Birds are incredibly important to the balance of our ecosystems: they are essential as pollinators and for seed dispersal, particularly for native plants, and they feed on and help control a variety of critters we consider pests like insects and rodents. Bird studies teach us about climate and the environment, and the birds themselves are key indicators of environmental change. And, most simply, birds are beautiful, and they provide us with music and joy.
The protagonist of this story, Perry, is doing his part as a bird, migrating to his northern breeding location to hopefully pass on his little brown bird genes. It’s all he can do. Perry’s Journey illustrates the important journey of birds like him across the globe, who are doing their parts to help.
Migrating birds are disproportionately affected because they need not just one habitat, but multiple habitats that can serve as stopping points along their journeys. We call these migration corridors and it’s important that they are protected: for the birds’ sakes as well as our own. Birds like Perry can’t control what happens on the ground, or in the water and air, but we can. During Perry’s journey over the couse of ten posts, we will go into some of the main issues facing not just migrating birds, but all birds, and what you can do to help. To support SFBBO's work to conserve birds and their habitats through science and outreach, please make a donation to our Spring Appeal!
Wingbeat is a blog where you can find the most recent stories about our science and outreach work. We'll also share guest posts from volunteers, donors, partners, and others in the avian science and conservation world. To be a guest writer, please fill out our Volunteer Application below.