Wild birds eat a wide variety of herbivorous insects and contribute to natural pest control. At the same time, songbirds often transmit pathogens and parasites that can harm livestock and humans. This relative benefit and cost tradeoff has not been well characterized in agricultural systems. Working on organic farms located along the west coast, we are examining the benefits and possible harms of wild-bird conservation. Birds’ feeding habits are being tracked using molecular diet analysis and bird-exclusion experiments; we are trapping birds to assess their parasite and pathogen loads; and Nature Conservancy collaborators are helping us understand how landscape structure impacts bird populations and biodiversity. Our outreach efforts are in collaboration with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
This work is supported by a grant from the USDA-NIFA (2015-51300-24155).