Effect Of Pesticides On Birds: How Insecticides Are Toxic To Song Birds

December 16, 2021 // 15 minute read

Articles » Effect Of Pesticides On Birds

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If you’re feeding birds in your backyard, one thing you should never do is spray some insecticides on your fruit or seed-bearing plants. If you’re growing a garden and concerned about birds or insects causing damage, you should still not do it Keep reading to learn the effect of pesticides on birds. 

It has been found that insecticides, though they kill insects, contain chemicals that harm several animals, including birds. Researchers were able to link some bird species’ population decline as being caused by insecticides. And this is really sad because, as humans, we should find ways to protect our garden or crops without harming any creature around us. 

In this article, we’ll explore more on how insecticides are toxic to seed-eating birds. We’ll discuss topics on: 

  • Why you should stop using insecticides in your backyard
  • Two common insecticides that harm birds
  • Effects of insecticides on songbirds

Two topics that we also feel the need to discuss are the: 

  • Ways to get rid of pests without using chemicals
  • Ways to keep birds away from your crops without using insecticides

This article aims to share as much knowledge about the danger insecticides pose on our songbirds. So, if this is something you want to know, read on…  

Two Common Insecticides That Harm Birds

According to research, there are two most common insecticides that farmers use worldwide that harm birds. These are the imidacloprid and the chlorpyrifos – the same insecticides that have been linked to the decrease of the bee population. 

To understand better how these insecticides harm our birds, let’s explore more about them… 

Imidacloprid

Imidacloprid is a type of neonicotinoid that farmers usually use for their crops. This insecticide was made to mimic nicotine that is toxic to insects. It is mainly used to control insects like termites, aphids, thrips,  soil insects, and pet fleas. 

This insecticide is classified as systemic, which means that when you spray it in the soil, the plant will absorb it and spread the substance to its leaves, stems, fruits, and flowers. Insects who will then eat these parts of the plant will experience a disruption in their nervous system, leading to death. 

As a type of neonicotinoid, imidacloprid is claimed to be safe for humans and only fatal to insects, which is why it’s one of the most widely used. However, as further research is done, it’s also found to affect birds and bees. On top of that, huge concentrations are found in freshwater lakes, which can significantly affect other animals. 

The worst part of this is that it has also been found that these insecticides are not that effective against plant pests. So, we’ve been killing birds and bees all this time without getting good results in protecting plants or crops. 

Chlorpyrifos

Chlorpyrifos is a broad-spectrum organophosphate insecticide used to control various pests in crops, golf courses, wood structures, cattle, and more. Most of the targets are mosquitoes, ticks, roundworms, and cockroaches. 

Pure chlorpyrifos appears as solid white or colorless crystals that have a strong odor. It can’t dissolve in water, so you have to use oily liquids. 

Like the imidacloprid, this insecticide functions by disrupting an insect’s nervous system that eventually kills it. You spread it in the soil, which will eventually spread throughout the plant and get ingested by insects. 

Unfortunately, chlorpyrifos closely resembles grit when mixed with an oily liquid. Because of this, there are many cases when birds directly consume chlorpyrifos, which is very dangerous. 

Effect of Pesticides on Birds

Imidacloprid and Chlorpyrifos are two of the most commonly used insecticides by farmers since 2015. And since then, it has affected birds in various ways. 

One thing to take note of here is that these two insecticides are nerve agents. This means that they mainly kill insects by disrupting the nervous system. And since birds have a more complex nervous system, it’s thought that these insecticides won’t affect them. 

But that’s far from the truth. 

One research has found that the bird species Partridges suffered from decreased egg production after exposure to imidacloprid. Another study found that Japanese Quail were found struggling to breathe after exposure to chlorpyrifos. And it has also been found that one corn seed treated with imidacloprid can kill a Blue Jay

It’s also found that the bird species that are mostly affected are the migrating birds. This is mainly because they tend to pass by agricultural fields and eat seeds or crops treated with these insecticides. 

Upon consumption, effects are seen immediately. 

The birds lose 25% of their weight, causing them not to fly as effectively. Some birds do recover from this weight loss, but some do not and just lead to death. Another effect seen is that birds lose their sense of direction, causing them not to migrate or collide with buildings or trees. 

If birds can’t migrate, they’ll suffer from a lack of resources and harsh weather conditions, which eventually lead to death. 

It is estimated that up to 67 million birds are killed yearly due to insecticides, and that is in the US alone. On top of that, millions of more birds suffer from reduced breathing, weight loss, and other complications. 

This is a very alarming number, which is why it has always been encouraged to stop using insecticides in your backyard or on your crops, especially if it’s these two pesticides. 

Why You Should Stop Using Insecticides In Your Backyard

Insecticides are formulated to harm, kill, or repel insects. They come in different forms – spray, gels, baits, or dust. On top of that, depending on the type of insecticide you’ll buy, you’ll be getting different results. 

For example, one insecticide will just repel insects from going to your plant, while another insecticide will disrupt an insect’s nervous system. There’s also a significant risk that you’ll be harming creatures other than insects like birds, pets, and yourself. 

Yes, insecticides cause more significant problems than just declining the birds’ population. 

Many insecticides are non-specific, and this is one great indicator that you might be hurting insects that don’t harm your garden. Great examples are bees and butterflies, which are important pollinators in your garden. If they die because of the insecticides, they can’t contribute to the beautification of your surroundings. 

Insecticides can also be mixed with your water source, causing harm to the local environment. And the worst part is, you might also endanger your pets and yourself. 

In other words, you don’t have to really care about the songbirds around you to stop yourself from using insecticides. You should just remember that these chemicals pose a danger to the environment, other creatures, and your family. 

Remember, most birds eat insects, too, and they can help you take care of all your insect problems without causing any harm to others. 

How To Get Rid of Pests Without Using Chemicals

Fortunately, there are ways to get rid of pests without using these harmful chemicals. Here are some natural solutions we recommend that you apply immediately in your backyard: 

1. Proper Separation

If you notice any struggling plants, separate them from the healthy ones. This is most likely because the growth of these plants might be affected by insects. So, by isolating them from the healthy ones, you prevent your healthy plants from suffering as well. 

Next, you need to make sure that your compost area is separated from your plants. The compost is guaranteed to attract pests, so by simply keeping that away, you’ll have fewer insects that can harm your plants and flowers. 

2. Use Clean Mulch and Compost

Keep your plant healthy by using clean mulch and compost. Make sure that you buy one of high quality, probably something you cultivated yourself or bought from someone trusted. 

If you’re cultivating your own compost, here are some tips to keep them clean, so they don’t attract pests or insects: 

  • Shred all material before putting them in your compost. This will help them decompose quicker. 
  • Manage the moisture level. As much as possible, it should only be as damp as a sponge that you’ve just squeezed out of water. 
  • Bury waste in the dirt, so they’re not easily visible to the insects. 
  • Choose a sealed compost bin to discourage insects from using it as a home. 
  • Never add meat or pet droppings; these are not suitable plant food and are only a good reason for bugs to come. 
  • Make sure that oxygen is circulating to speed up the decomposition process. 
  • Add more brown organic matter like dried leaves, sticks, twigs, plain paper, etc., instead of food scraps to stop insects from coming. It’s recommended that around 50-80% of your plant material should be brown organic matter instead of green compost. 
  • Splash boiling hot water into your compost to kill insects living in it. Close the lid after splashing the liquid to seal the heat in. 

As for mulch, here are some of the best mulches you can use that repels insects and other bugs: 

  1. Organic mulches
  2. Plastic mulches
  3. Cedar and cypress (bark or chip mulches)
  4. Straw mulches
  5. Cocoa bean shells

Whether you’re using organic or inorganic mulch, it’s recommended that you should not layer them more than three inches deep. This will help give your plant the best nutrition they need. If you’re using organic mulch, it’s also best that you replace them regularly. 

3. Clean your Area

Keep your backyard clean from anything that might attract insects. 

This includes fallen leaves, weeds, and faded blooms. If you have fruit-bearing fruits around, pick up any fallen fruits or rotten ones and dispose of them properly. 

4. Use Natural Fertilizers

Natural fertilizers keep soil healthy, which also means that you’re growing healthy plants. Healthy plants can better fight off insect manifestation or any diseases, which means there’s very little for you to worry about. 

One really good natural fertilizer you can use is seaweed fertilizer. It contains iron, magnesium, calcium, and sulfur, which are really helpful in keeping the soil and plants healthy. 

5. Grow Various Plants

When you have a garden, make sure to grow a variety of plants. This makes it harder for insects to spread all over your yard. 

On top of that, it’s also recommended to grow plants that can ward off insects. This includes: 

What’s nice about these plants is that they don’t only ward off pests, but they also give color to your yard. Grow them around your other plants to keep those protected. 

6. Sterilize

Sterilize your garden tools when using them in between different plants. If you’ve used those tools on an unhealthy plant, make sure to clean them thoroughly before using them on a healthy plant. This will prevent the spread of diseases. 

7. Use Other Insects

Sounds ironic, right? How can you get rid of insects by adding more insects? 

Well, some insects eat insects as well. Praying mantis, ladybugs, and beetles are all examples of insects that battle with usual garden pests. So, maybe these are the insects you’d want to attract to help you get rid of your pest problems. 

8. Natural Sprays

Replace insecticides with natural sprays. These are found to be effective in killing smaller insects and their eggs. Some common natural sprays you can use are: 

  • Citrus oils
  • Garlic oil
  • Thyme essential oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Lavender essential oil
  • Neem oil

These natural sprays may not be very effective on larger insects, but it’s a trick I recommend that you use along with the other methods above. 

Natural Solutions for Specific Pests To Eliminate The Effect Of Pesticides On Birds

What I’ve shared above are the general things you can do to prevent pests in your yard and reduce the effect of pesticides on birds. But if you’re working to target a specific pest, here are the best ways to get rid of them. 

AphidsAphids, also called plant lice, are common insects seen in every plant. They are one of the most irritating pests to handle because they multiply quickly. 

There are two ways to combat aphids: 

1) Grow plants that attract them and their predators. Their predators would surely handle your problem. 
2) Grow plants with strong scents like mint and basil to drive the aphids away. 
CaterpillarsAlthough butterflies are beautiful creatures that contribute to the growth of plants and flowers, caterpillars don’t offer much and can be quite a nuisance. They have a very strong appetite, that they end up eating most of your plants. 

The only best way to remove caterpillars is to pick them up. That’s it!

Don’t kill caterpillars because once they turn into beautiful butterflies, you’ll be thanking them a lot. 
Slugs and SnailsSlugs and snails, like caterpillars, damage plants, but it’s very easy to keep them away. 

Simply scatter some crushed eggshells around your plants to prevent them from going closer.

Since they have soft bodies, they wouldn’t be able to slide comfortably through those shells without getting hurt.

How To Keep Birds Away From Your Crops 

Now, if you’re a farmer and concerned about birds eating your crops, you don’t have to put poison on your plants to keep them away. Here are some bird-friendly ways you can use to protect your crops: 

Plastic Predators

One of the most effective things you can do is install some plastic predators around the field. 

You can display owl statues on top of your roof, on a branch of a tree, or you can build a perch and install one. You can also use toy snakes. 

Place these fake predators in an area where they’re easily seen, and make sure to move them around every day. Birds can be very smart. They’ll know it’s fake if you’re not moving those toys around. 

Scarecrow

Other than plastic predators, you can install scarecrows. 

These are known to be very effective, so spread them out across the field. And again, make sure to move them around. 

Windchimes

Birds easily get scared by sounds. So, having a windchime, especially in a place like an open field, would be very helpful in scaring birds away, preventing them from eating your crops. 

Garden Spinners

Just like with sudden sounds, birds also scatter away when they detect movement. So, by having garden spinners, you can always give birds an illusion that something is moving around.

Reflective Items

Lastly, use some reflective items to mimic flashing lights. This is another thing that birds don’t appreciate and will surely make them fly away, forgetting about your crops. 

If you feel the need to use insecticides, make sure that you never use the two insecticides mentioned above. Those are insecticides that have undergone lots of research and are proven unsafe. 

Fortunately, there are bird-safe insecticides available on the market or you can just go for natural sprays. But, make sure that you still use the methods above if you need to use these bird-safe insecticides, as this will help ensure that the birds won’t consume any of your crops. 

Final Thoughts On The Effect Of Pesticides On Birds

Two of the most widely used insecticides for plants and crops harm birds in different ways. 

  1. Suffer from breathing
  2. Weight loss
  3. Disoriented navigation

And these all lead to death. Imagine how there are 67 million birds dying every year due to insecticide poisoning. Add that number to millions of birds dying for other causes as well, and we get an overwhelming number of bird deaths. 

Although it’s undeniable that these two insecticides are the number one causes, it’s highly recommended to just stay away from any form of insecticides and use the natural ways instead. 

As I detailed above, there are a lot of ways to keep your yard insect-free without causing harm to birds and other little animals around you. And if you’re a bird watcher, it’s even most recommended to keep your yard insect-friendly. 

As you know, birds will always take care of your insect problem for you. But if you have a garden to maintain, use the tricks I have above on your beautiful flower garden and keep the other parts of your yard insect-friendly. 

In other words, stop using insecticides and let birds handle your insect problems. 

Effect Of Pesticides On Birds
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