Tiny Heroes: Hummingbirds Guard Small Farms from Invasive Berry Pests

In a promising development for small farmers, recent research reveals that the humble hummingbird could play a crucial role in combating invasive pests that threaten berry crops. The presence of hummingbirds can be harnessed as a natural pest control method, offering an environmentally friendly solution for small-scale farmers.

Invasive pests have posed a significant challenge to large and small-scale farmers alike, jeopardizing the health and productivity of their berry crops. However, a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University has uncovered a surprising ally in the fight against these pests — the hummingbird. These tiny creatures have shown a remarkable appetite for the insects that commonly plague berry plants, thereby providing a natural defense mechanism.

At times, farmers have relied on chemical pesticides to curb pest populations. Unfortunately, these solutions often come with drawbacks such as environmental contamination, potential harm to beneficial insects, and health risks for both farmers and consumers. Recognizing the need for sustainable alternatives, researchers turned their attention to the fascinating relationship between hummingbirds and invasive pests.

The study found that hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar produced by berry flowers, drawing them close to the plants. While feeding, these birds inadvertently consume a significant number of invasive pests, including aphids and mites, that feed on the same berry plants. By actively foraging on these pests, hummingbirds contribute to reducing their populations and mitigating the damage caused to berry crops.

One notable advantage of utilizing hummingbirds as a pest control method is their ability to target specific insects. Unlike chemical pesticides that can harm beneficial insects, hummingbirds selectively prey on the pests that pose a threat to berry plants, leaving beneficial insects unharmed. This not only helps maintain the delicate ecological balance but also promotes overall biodiversity on farms.

“While we can’t expect hummingbirds to eliminate the problem, they certainly help,” said entomology professor Greg Loeb in a Cornell CALS news article, who added that for growers with u-pick operations who are big on agritourism, “Having the hummingbirds adds to that experience.”

To attract and encourage hummingbirds to play their part in pest control, small farmers can implement a few simple strategies. Planting a diverse range of native flowering plants, particularly those that produce nectar-rich flowers, can serve as an enticing food source for hummingbirds. Creating a hospitable habitat with shelter, water sources, and perches will also attract these hummingbirds to the farm.

Read more about hummingbirds and their role in small farming in the CALS News.

Clara Tagliacozzo-Lee

Clara is a sophomore in the Industrial and Labor Relations School. As an Ithaca native, agriculture, farming, the organic-section at Wegmans and Aldi’s, Greenstar, and the farmer’s market is her happy place. She is also half Taiwanese, and is excited to use her language and people skills to contribute to many of the exciting projects that Small Farms has begun to initiate. She also cannot wait to assist in the research, extension, and education programs and help local farmers further develop their businesses! When Clara is not studying, sleeping, or working, you will either find her eating/drinking bubble tea, lounging by our beautiful Cayuga Lake, or chilling with the ducks at the Farmers Market.
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