Those crimson cardinals outside your window may be even more brilliant in color than they have in years past. Male cardinals show off their bright red colors in order to attract a mate and continue the species.
In the past, brilliant coloring was a sign of health, so picking a good-looking mate assured strong, healthy babies. Diet plays an important part in coloration of the birds, and in rural areas, a healthy diet of native plants ensured bright plumage. But a study in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology has shown that invasive plants like Amur honeysuckle have great pigmentation for feather color, tricking females into believing that all the males snacking on these bushes were in tip-top shape. These non-native honeysuckle are high in carotenoids (which also make flamingos pink) and tasty fruits, attracting birds to choose these invasive species over native species. The increased coloration of all birds through diet has decreased the ability of females to choose a mate who will produce the largest number of viable chicks.
This is just one example of why native species of plants are important. Choosing the plants you use around your home is important in maintaining our ecosystem. Planting native honeysuckle and ripping out invasive bushes can help strengthen the cardinal's gene pool. Heavily managed farms (including pesticide use) and a lack of flowers in our increasingly urbanized landscape have reduced annual honey bee population by about each year since 2008. Without bees to pollinate our planet, plant reproduction will be reduced, and crop quality and quantity will decrease. So planting flowers and eliminating pesticides at your home can help in some small way to protect our environment.
Your backyard garden is a part of a complex system. It feeds birds and bees, creates a home for insects (good and bad), produces oxygen, filters water, protects soil from erosion, and offsets carbon production. It has a very important job and can bring great pleasure in its color, scents and even tasty foods we grow. And it protects our watershed, keeping our waterways clean and healthy.
If you want to learn more about how to landscape for a healthier environment, please attend our "Landscaping for Water Quality Protection" workshop on Saturday, June 9, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. You can register at www.tourchautauqua.com (go to the Events page on the left-hand side of the page and scroll down to June 9 to register). Landscape architect Dean Gowen, with more than 20 years of experience in diverse private and public design and planning, will show you how to beautify your landscape and create a healthier watershed.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. To sign up for notifications of upcoming watershed programs, tours and events or for further information of CWC's conservation and education programs, visit our website at chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.