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A snappy dresser and handy around the vineyard, too.

A snappy dresser and handy around the vineyard, too.

With its bright blue back and rust-colored chest, it’s easy to see why the western bluebird is a frequent birder’s favorite. Soon viticulturists may number among its fans as well.

According to the research Dr. Julie Jedlicka conducted as part of her doctoral thesis at UC–Santa Cruz, the western bluebird may serve as a natural alternative to insecticides to manage some of the pests that invade California’s vineyards. Jedlicka found that placing nesting boxes on vineyard plots lures in populations of the entirely insectivorous bird, which in turn can fend off insect-borne blights such as the deadly Pierce’s disease.

After placing pieces of what she calls “highly energetic yummy pieces of bluebird food” on plots both with and without nesting boxes, Jedlicka found that 2.4 times more insects vanished (presumably because they were eaten) from the plots containing nesting boxes, probably due to the fact that sites containing nesting boxes saw a tenfold increase in bluebirds sightings.

Ron Rosenbrand, vineyard manager of Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain Vineyard, has put this research into practice. He says he discovered the agricultural value of the western bluebird while trying to figure out a way to manage his infestation of blue-green sharpshooters, an insect that spreads the dreaded Pierce’s disease. When told he could attract bluebirds by providing homes for them, he took at building bluebird-sized nesting boxes with a vengeance. Five years and 800 boxes later, Rosenbrand says he now rarely finds blue-green sharpshooters in his fields and has “almost zero cases of Pierce’s disease.”

Of the bluebird, Rosenbrand says, “Not only are they beautiful to look at, they’re tremendously effective. It’s great having Mother Nature actually work with you rather than against you as a farmer.”

Although her research is just out, Jedlicka explains that the thought of using birds for pest control is not necessarily novel. “They used to do studies on whether birds were effective natural predators on pest populations back in the 1950s, before pesticides were on the market,” she says.

Since the 1950s, much of the bluebird’s preferred habitats—oak woodlands and savannas—have been converted into agricultural and urban land. The fact that the bluebird’s propensity to eat squirmy grub has earned it a new home in some California vineyards offers a hopeful solution to the species decline it has experienced over the 20th century. Jedlicka says that, ultimately, she is “looking at how we can bring birds back into the system in a way that can lower pest populations and create win-win scenarios.” 

 

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  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection MartinV

    Very beautiful bird, nature has answers to all the problems.

    Martin Velasquez @ Jogos

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html MartinV

    Very beautiful bird, nature has answers to all the problems.

    Martin Velasquez @ Jogos

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection order essays

    Oh this bird is really amazing – so beautiful one!
    order essays

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html order essays

    Oh this bird is really amazing – so beautiful one!
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  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection Bruce Coulthard
  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html Bruce Coulthard
  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection Keith

    The normal result of using these sort of natural methods to control a pest usually result in problems in other aspects. In this case bluebirds will prefer berries before insects. Why would you want to encourage a pest like that?

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html Keith

    The normal result of using these sort of natural methods to control a pest usually result in problems in other aspects. In this case bluebirds will prefer berries before insects. Why would you want to encourage a pest like that?

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection Keith

    The process of winemaking pretty much rids it of residue issues down to the ppt level, not in any way like a level in a food process. Grapes are sprayed on the basis that the residues left are safe for processing in to baby food.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html Keith

    The process of winemaking pretty much rids it of residue issues down to the ppt level, not in any way like a level in a food process. Grapes are sprayed on the basis that the residues left are safe for processing in to baby food.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html ravi singh

    One of the issues with spraying is the cumulative effect of pesticides that reach the vines via the soil.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection ravi singh

    One of the issues with spraying is the cumulative effect of pesticides that reach the vines via the soil.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html Keith

    Most of the pesticides that have that effect are the organic ones with sulfur or copper in the ingredients. Most insectides pretty much breakdown in a matter of days they have no UV stability, etc. Newer research on DDT seems to indicate it was villified without real justification. Now we have millions dying from malaria in the world.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection Keith

    Most of the pesticides that have that effect are the organic ones with sulfur or copper in the ingredients. Most insectides pretty much breakdown in a matter of days they have no UV stability, etc. Newer research on DDT seems to indicate it was villified without real justification. Now we have millions dying from malaria in the world.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection asdfasddfs

    first in north face denali jacket saleactuality accomplished this is my home, my fate here, Mandolin Korea are all my. With mullion windows and affected herenorth face boundary triclimate abridged plants andthe north face boundary triclimate jacket copse the north face rain jacketand platforms.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html asdfasddfs

    first in north face denali jacket saleactuality accomplished this is my home, my fate here, Mandolin Korea are all my. With mullion windows and affected herenorth face boundary triclimate abridged plants andthe north face boundary triclimate jacket copse the north face rain jacketand platforms.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection ravi singh

    This is truly an important part of the road back to nature for sustainable viticulture & residue free wine.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html ravi singh

    This is truly an important part of the road back to nature for sustainable viticulture & residue free wine.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html Keith

    Yes, bluebirds do eat cultivated small fruit including grapes. Just because some listing online lists a few of the things they do eat does not eliminate the fact they eat other things.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection Keith

    Yes, bluebirds do eat cultivated small fruit including grapes. Just because some listing online lists a few of the things they do eat does not eliminate the fact they eat other things.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html Bet

    Yes, they do occasionally eat grapes – especially wild.  However, bluebirds are not known to be a problem with cultivated fruits, mainly because during the time of year when cultivated fruits are available, they are focused on sources of protein – insects – in order to reproduce and rear hungry nestlings.  (Nesting season is typically March – August.)  There actually is a lot of data out there on what bluebirds eat, based on dissections done in the early 1900s.  Of course, all creatures favor certain food sources, but when options are limited they may go to other sources in desperation.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection Bet

    Yes, they do occasionally eat grapes – especially wild.  However, bluebirds are not known to be a problem with cultivated fruits, mainly because during the time of year when cultivated fruits are available, they are focused on sources of protein – insects – in order to reproduce and rear hungry nestlings.  (Nesting season is typically March – August.)  There actually is a lot of data out there on what bluebirds eat, based on dissections done in the early 1900s.  Of course, all creatures favor certain food sources, but when options are limited they may go to other sources in desperation.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html Keith

    Many cherries are found in nests early on (The young regurgitate the seeds) and then grapes are typically not harvested until September on through to November sometimes. I just found this discussion and it describes how frantic bluebirds are at eating.

    http://audubon-omaha.org/bestofbbml/diet.htm

    Using something that is already a pest and encouraging them is not the way to go.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection Keith

    Many cherries are found in nests early on (The young regurgitate the seeds) and then grapes are typically not harvested until September on through to November sometimes. I just found this discussion and it describes how frantic bluebirds are at eating.

    http://audubon-omaha.org/bestofbbml/diet.htm

    Using something that is already a pest and encouraging them is not the way to go.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection.html ravi singh

    In general where you have large acreage from my experience the benefits of birds out way any bird damage.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2011/11/16/ucsc_grad_finds_bluebirdwine_connection ravi singh

    In general where you have large acreage from my experience the benefits of birds out way any bird damage.