Mary Tutwiler

Migratory birds chime a death knell for pests

by Mary Tutwiler

Some see blooming azaleas as an indicator that spring has arrived. Some equate spring with a sneezing attack from live oak pollen. Birders, however, wait for the arrival of the neotropical migratory warblers making their way up from Mexico. Louisiana’s coastal cheniers provide the first landfall for birds colored like Christmas ornaments that struggle over the long trip across the Gulf and literally tumble into the shelter of the scrub oaks to rest and eat before continuing their journey north. From the coasts of Cameron and Vermilion parishes, the brilliantly plumaged travelers find their way into the hardwood bottomlands of Lafayette, where with a pair of binoculars you can catch beauties like parula warblers and painted buntings.

Acadiana naturalist Bill Fontenot has been hanging out in his back yard in north Lafayette Parish, relishing the songbird’s arrival. “Reports of newly returning ruby-throated hummingbirds, barn swallows, yellow-throated vireos, black and white warblers, and others began to filter in from various parts of South Louisiana,” he writes in his Sunday nature column in the Daily Advertiser. He delights in the song of the parula, “chichichichiChiCHICHI!”

Woodland birds are hell on bugs. “Like fine-toothed combs, these small, feathered eating machines hold all manner of equally voracious leaf-eating bugs in check, preventing annihilation of our forests. Think about it: without the services of these millions of little insect predators, how much chemical pesticide would it take to do the same job that they do?” he writes.

We’d do well to pay attention, he says. Trying to “build a smarter planet,” as the current slogan for engineering giant IBM goes, is anathema in Fontenot’s eyes, and too much meddling only muddles up the works. “I fear that we’d poison ourselves long before we could even put a dent in the bug problem.”