The Value of Birds

Have you ever thought about the value of birds? I mean, the value in dollars. There over 18,000 birds on this planet; all are different and all play a role in keeping Florida ecosystems healthy. They can also keep us and our economy healthy too. Here’s how:

BENEFIT OF BIRDS

Birds provide us with a number of ecosystem services, the benefits we get from nature without having to do any work. The value of cultural benefits when it comes to birds is quite large when you consider the economic driver of birdwatching, art, music and religion. But birds do more than bring money into the economy and provide us with beautiful songs and behavioral displays.

POLLINATING PLANTS

Hummingbirds have an important role as pollinators, and their attraction to tubular flowers with nectar is also vital for the ecosystem. Hummingbirds are uniquely adapted to get this food source with their long, narrow bills and ability to hover, but they also serve as a pollinator in the process. So what would happen to our native Firebush (Hamelia patens) and Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) if hummingbirds weren’t around to pollinate them? Could the butterflies fill the roll just as well? What about humans? And what if firebush and coral honeysuckle disappeared?

Tubular flowers of firebush (Hamelia patens).

Tubular flowers of coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

SPREADING SEEDS

We often encourage folks to plant shrubs with tasty berries if they are looking to attract birds. Whether the goal is for people to enjoy bird watching or to feel good about providing a food source for birds, one other fact remains true; birds are carrying these tasty berries and their seeds to other locations.

A study looked at the value of Eurasian jays (in the same family as our blue jays) in a National Urban Park in Stockholm. They wanted to know what it would cost for a human to plant tree seeds that would otherwise be done by this bird. What they found was it would cost anywhere from $2,450 to $11,250 per bird! So, sure we can do it, but it doesn’t come without a big cost.

PEST CONTROL

Birds are also great at controlling pests. One study looked at the impact of birds on pests in a Dutch apple plantation. They found that with birds present, there was a 66% increase in the yield of apples.

And get this…if you like Jamaican coffee, then you should thank the birds too. A study by Matt Johnson (Humboldt State University) and colleagues found that birds in a Jamaican coffee plantation helped reduce the damage caused by a pest beetle. So much so, they saw increased yields of coffee berries and an associated increase in income for the farmers. A win-win for all, well…maybe not the beetles.

Mocking bird hunting bugs in a garden. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright

CLEAN UP, AISLE 10

We don’t often think highly of vultures, but they do the dirty work of cleaning up dead animals. So they deserve some praise. If vulture populations declined, would we notice? The answer is yes! At least that was the case in India.

There was a major decline of vulture populations in India due to the use of an anti-inflammatory drug in cattle. It was discovered that vultures would die after eating cows injected with this drug. Less vultures meant more dead cows, more dead cows meant a feeding opportunity for wild dogs and rats, and more rats and dogs meant more opportunities for disease. Long story short, it was determined that over a 14 year period, the disappearance of vultures (due to this drug) was responsible for 48,000 human rabies deaths and came at a cost of $34 billion to the economy of India. So be sure to thank the avian custodian next time you see one.

Black vulture (Coragyps atratus) looking around for food. Photo Credit: Lara Milligan, UF/IFAS Extension

CAN I HELP INCREASE THE VALUE OF BIRDS?

Sure can! The world’s bird populations are declining, along with many other species as we continue to grow and expand habitats for people. But you can help by creating habitat for birds.

Sources:

https://phys.org/news/2016-12-bird-species-world.html

LIVINGBIRD Magazine, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Summer 2017, Volume 36, Issue 3. Pages 18-20.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0127247

http://myfwc.com/viewing/business-and-tourism/

https://www2.humboldt.edu/wildlife/faculty/johnson/pdf/why-birds-matter_ch2.pdf