Interconnections Between the Birds & the Bees

Studies of Birds and Insects Illuminate Interconnectedness in Nature

While they seem to fill very separate niches within the environment, birds and insects share some important symbiotic relationships. Both birds and insects play vital roles in the places and spaces that they inhabit (nearly everywhere), and though their roles are not shared, they are sometimes dependent upon one another. Exploring the relationship between the two can illuminate interconnections found within nature, and highlights the ways in which life forms develop relationships based on one another roles in a landscape.

Though most bird-insect relationships are simply predator-prey relationships, there are ways in which the two types of creatures exist in symbiosis – though the insects serving as meals might beg to differ about the extent to which such a relationship is truly symbiotic. Though bird-insect relationships generally result in someone getting eaten, they’re still important and essential to the survival of not only birds, but some plants as well.

Some clever bird species spend their days with animal species who carry their favorite insect snacks around on their backs, while others depend on meal-worthy caterpillars to activate the release of a special scent in trees to alert them to the caterpillars’ presence – providing necessary fuel for themselves and saving the trees from having their leaves mowed down by insect mandibles.

As spring arrives and the landscape awakens, local species will become more and more visible. Watch for local insect and bird populations (look closely!), and see if you can identify any symbiotic and/or predator-prey relationships between species who live nearby. Identifying who eats what or who co-habitats with (and where!) can provide insight into the connections found within the local environment.

Before searching for connections, brush up on insect identification using Insects.org, an online tool offering detailed information and fantastic images of insect species from all around the world. Insect enthusiasts can even jam to the insects episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show!

Since birds are easier to spot than insects, identifying them can be much less of a challenge. However, true nature sleuths may discover evidence of bird visitors – in such a case, check out the US Fisheries and Wildlife Service’s Feather Atlas, an online archive of the feathers of over 350 different bird species!

[Photo credits:  (cc) Red Beetle/David Farquhar; Rose Breasted Grosbeak/Paul VanDerWerf; Hummingbird/Bill GraceyDragonfly Wings/Freeariello]

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