>> Zoe-Blue Coates

In the late spring and early summer of 2023, it felt like every plant and surface in the Compost Education Centre teaching gardens had a stink bug on it. The early warm and dry weather provided the perfect conditions for stink bugs to thrive. Stink bugs are a real nuisance because they suck plant sap from leaves, flowers, buds, fruit, and seeds. They do this through punctures that can cause scarring and dimpling that eventually leads to stunted or misshapen growth. This can be a real concern for seedlings, fruit, or plants already under stress.

Around this time, I paid a visit to my neighbours’ garden. I asked them if they had noticed the spike in stink bugs in their raised garden beds and raspberry canes, but they hadn’t seen a single one. I heard gardeners complain around the city – why was their garden an exception? The answer may lie in birds, a gardener’s second greatest resource (after leaves, of course).  This couple has several bird feeders around their yards, including suet, nectar, and seed feeders for a wide variety of birds. If there were any stink bugs in their garden, they were likely being eaten by the populations of Chestnut Backed Chickadees, Red Breasted Nuthatches, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and Downy Woodpeckers. These commonly found backyard birds were attracted to the bird feeders and decided to stick around and eat what bugs, and fruit they could find in the gardens.

Bird species are in decline due to human activity that has depleted their sources for food, water, and shelter. This problem may feel insurmountable, but gardeners can help through forming reciprocal relationships. Provide the necessities of food, water, and shelter for birds and they will perform the same tasks that they have in our ecosystems for the past thousands of years like insect control, pollination, and seed dispersal to name a few. If you’re interested in learning more, you can sign up for the workshop ‘How Birds Help: Gardening with Reciprocity’ being offered at the Compost Education Centre on April 27.