Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Birds and Bugs

Since I started my Adventures in Birding back in 2009, I’ve been conducting research about birds and bugs.  There is conflicting scientific "evidence" about the effects of wild fowl on insect populations.  For example, one report from the Pennsylvania Game Commission claims wild turkeys consume up to 200 wood ticks per day.  Another study from womenhunters.com claims wild turkeys actually bring in more wood ticks.  I will let the so-called experts fight it out among themselves, but rather will present my own conclusions based on 43 years of life spent in the country.

When we first moved to Stillwater in 1969, there was little wildlife in the area.  No ducks or geese, nor any deer, but the dog ticks were plentiful.  The addition of  our horses and dogs seemed to make the situation worse.  Medication helped the dogs but traditional equine bug spray did little to prevent the infestation of my horses.  In particular, my gray Anglo-Arab was a magnet for the blood suckers. 

In the early 80s, the wood tick problem actually became worse when my neighbors to the north added a flock of sheep.  White and low to the ground, these animals made an easy and plentiful target.  At one point, the tick infestation became so bad a trip down the asphalt driveway to get the mail would attract three or four blood suckers.  Perhaps the lowest point was when we found them scaling the house searching for a way in.  I must admit, this revelation brought a serious discussion about moving.

A turning point occurred when the sheep left and my last horse died in 1999.  The number of dog ticks continued to drop after my golden retriever passed away in the summer of 2005.  However, right around that time the tiny but deadly deer ticks began moving into the St. Croix River Valley.

The summer of 2008 registered an alarming number of deer ticks.  In 2010 I had four bites, one of which was serious enough to  leave lasting repercussions.  Over a year later, it becomes red and swollen when I get hot and sweaty.

This year I have not  had one wood tick bite.  In fact, I have only seen one of each variety.  In late May, I found a deer tick crawling on my arm, and a week later, I discovered a dog tick crawling on a stepping stone by the fountain.  Additionally, the number of mosquitoes has also decreased.  While I want to acknowledge  the efforts of twin cities mosquito control, spraying and pellet bombs have been in use for many years. 

I have heard that ticks and other creepy crawlies go in cycles, but my personal observations clearly indicate a steady decline.  Call it anecdotal information, but these are my conclusions:

--White or light-colored mammals attract wood ticks.
--Wild birds, especially turkeys, and bats have a huge impact on controlling 
   harmful pests.

Well-meaning friends often chide me for spending so much money feeding my feathered friends, but I consider this expenditure an investment in my home as well as a hobby.  In fact, I think of seed, suet and corn as a reward to my winged ones for making my land livable again.  

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