Warning: this column is about the birds and the bees and might make sensitive souls uncomfortable. I’ll throw in butterflies for no extra charge. Has anyone noticed that over the past few years you have been seeing less of these amazing creatures in your gardens and at your feeders? If you have, you are not alone. People around the Wake Forest area are talking about it, and even people in Pennsylvania, my home state, have noticed it. I for one, am distressed by this, for a decline in personal enjoyment and from an ecosystem perspective. A few years ago, I had so many hummingbirds at my feeders that they even fought with each other, and with the bees, too, who also enjoyed the sweet nectar I served up for them. One day, bees were hanging off the feeder like a buzzing yellow and black beard. There was a time when every other clover had a bee sitting on it. Now, I get excited when I see one or two hummers, bees, or butterflies hanging around. Is this just an aberrancy that nature will adjust in time? I don’t think so.
About two years back, before I noticed the scenario unfolding in my own back yard, I wrote an article about this, and I think it is now time to revisit the topic. In 2017, Food and Wine magazine detailed how our food supply is dependent on birds, bees and butterflies, and it warned that bees and butterflies were going extinct. Several reasons were mentioned, not the least of which was the use of pesticides, and thus began my awareness of the devastation these chemicals can bring on our world.
I never use the spray types of insecticides and used “Sevin” dust only once, but it stayed on the plants and every time I looked at them, I wondered how many birds, bees, and butterflies I was killing. Instead, I decided to use the “Bayer 3 in 1 Advanced” granule form to handle plant insects, diseases, and mites because it was not topical, but I was deluding myself, and I knew it. Once those granules get absorbed into the soil, they enter the entire plant system. The only thing that comforted me was that I had not applied the product when my flowers were blooming, which is the time they are frequented by pollinators, who then ingest the chemicals. One year we had a lawn service spray for bugs. That year I had deformed, dead baby bluebirds in my box. That was the last time they came.
One of the worst of these chemicals is imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, and the one that is in the “Bayer 3 in 1” line of products. Neonicotinoids have been used for two decades as a cost-effective way for farmers to control insect destruction of their crops. Because neonicotinoids, of which there are eight different forms, had initially been deemed “safe” for use on food crops for humans, it has been allowed continued commercialization. However, in recent years, pesticides have been linked to bee colony collapse and now to the decline in the hummingbird population. A Feb 23, 2021, post from the news blog “Beyond Pesticides” discusses the problem of pollinator decline and states that “overwhelming data has already been established on the threat neonicotinoids pose to the health of ecosystems worldwide.” Not only are pollinators affected, but now there is concern about their effects on humans, amphibians, and other aquatic species due to fact that these chemicals can leach into our environment, persist in the soil, and are highly soluble in water.
Has this discussion of the birds and the bees made you uncomfortable? I don’t know the answer to this serious problem, but I know that, thankfully, scientific research continues. I am going to try some non-toxic options to treat my plants this year, and if they don’t work, I’ll stick some artificial flowers there instead.