Insects and Tawny Frogmouths and Bohollow
Winter weather seems to have dropped upon us quite suddenly. When I first began my career as a wildlife carer and rescuer, I became closely tuned in the seasonal changes of both our weather and also the creatures which rely so heavily on these changes. I have watched over the years our seasons starting to change. At first, the changes were quite subtle but now they seem to be much more pronounced and this in turn causes our wildlife to alter their behaviour to adapt the best they can. The food resources for our wildlife ebb and flow, they always have, but our wildlife have been attuned to this ebb and flow for thousands of years. Species know when they can rely on a seasonal food source or change and it is a cycle which they have learnt to depend on.
Some of you may have read or heard about the decline in our insect species. This is not just relevant to our area here in Northern Victoria, it is an occurrence worldwide and it is something which we all need to be concerned about. Our insects are at the bottom of our natural food chain or put differently, the centre of the web which connects every living thing on our planet. I think the web analogy is more apt to describe how everything is connected as it only takes one strand of the web to be broken or weakened and it compromises the strength of the entire web.
For the last several years I have noticed a dramatic decline in the amount of moths and insects. Many of our native birds are insectivores and the majority of their diet is made up of insects; some only eat insects. While in care, we strive to give our native critters the most natural diet we can. We buy in mealworms, crickets and cockroaches to help accomodate our insectivore’s needs but nothing beats their natural food source. This has seen me collecting moths and insects for many years, in particular to help feed our small insectivorous bird species. It helps young birds to learn to hawk them in the air and also to recognise their natural prey. For this reason I have come to know which types of moths are tasty for our patients and which are not, which ones are about at different times. The pattern was always the same. The pattern has not been the same for quite a few years now and it always concerned me.
This past Spring/Summer season saw barely any insects around. It was the worst I had seen their numbers. In fact, many of them just weren’t present at all. This last month, just when I thought we weren’t going to see many of the types of moths at all, they suddenly appeared..and appeared in the high numbers which one used to see earlier in Summer years ago. It was a relief to see them actually appear, as previous years this did not happen. Their overall numbers were just not there at all during the entire course of the year.
The huge moths, which I grew up knowing as Bardi Moths, have recently come out their hiding place beneath the soil of our large eucalyptus trees and hit the skies in large numbers. This is extraordinarily late here for this moth. There were hardly any about last year.
During the last few weeks we have seen an abundance of Tawny Frogmouths (pictured here) come into care due to impacts from vehicles. These birds rely on these large moths as a food source and the moths are often around roadsides, attracted to vehicle lights, street lights and also the shimmer of bitumen in the moonlight. During Spring and Summer we had a high number of Tawny Frogmouths arrive at the shelter extremely underweight; even the nestlings who arrived at Bohollow were coming in underweight. It doesn’t take a scientist to put two and two together and realise the impact that the changes in our insect life is having on creatures such as the Tawny Frogmouth. I am just in a position to witness those effects directly, as when species are struggling, we are usually the first to see the real fallout in the wildlife that come into our care.
The reason why this decline in insect numbers worldwide is happening is not at all understood. It is not known whether our changing climate is playing a part in this and it is likely a combination of many things, including habitat loss; yes, habitat loss certainly has an impact on our insects just as it does animals. Insecticides and pesticides, particularly as their use is so heavy has certainly had an enormous impact over the years and eventually this accumulative effect is going to be seen. These toxins can actually be present in the insects themselves and birds like the Tawny Frogmouth consume them, also building up toxicity levels in their own bodies. This accumulative effect of toxin intake eventually catches up with the organism and in the case of the Tawny Frogmouth, gets stored in the body until times get a bit tough and they call upon their reserves to see them through the lean times. Then the full effect of the build up of toxins is seen when the bird succumbs to the poisoning and actually dies. If you think this is scary stuff, it is…and it is very real.
We need to think about everything we do to our soil, our water and our plant life and consider the consequences of everything connected to that system. Even something as simple as a fertiliser can render a soil unsuitable for the insect life which naturally occurred in it. The pesticides that you spray on your garden to keep those pesky aphids at bay..a tiny Superb Fairy Wren, a Whiteplumed Honeyeater, a Magpie…if any of these birds eat sprayed insects or forage off sprayed ground they are ingesting toxins, toxins that may and do kill them.
There are many claims that certain chemicals are not very harmful to our environment and our critters. I think a good rule to follow is that if you wouldn’t drink it yourself or eat off the ground or plant you have sprayed, it is pretty safe to assume that it isn’t a great thing for our insects or wildlife to be consuming or coming into contact with either.
We cut and dig out weeds here at Bohollow so we don’t use chemicals for control. It is more work, harder work and yes, my kids complain a little as they see a neighbour spray a weed and it dies. We do this as I see the results of our actions on our native wildlife every day. I cannot deny the evidence before me that everything we do around us can affect some other living creature, which can in turn affect another living creature all the way along that web of life.
When we walk through a spider web the main concern for most of us is needing to know where the spider is. We don’t usually give a thought to the strand of web we broke and what it means for that spider. Even if we only broke a small strand, the consequences for the spider may mean it does not catch any insects that night as the entire web has been compromised. These tiny strands which we keep breaking in our natural world are all connected to the entire web of life and one tiny strand causes consequences throughout that entire web.
For now, our Tawny Frogmouths are enjoying the rich pickings. Winter will be upon us very soon and the insect life will become scarce. I hope that this delayed abundance and welcome relief will see them through to the warmer months and that the next Spring and Summer period won’t be quite so harsh for them as the one just past.
For injured wildlife contact Kirsty at Bohollow on: 0447 636 953