See also the “Gamebirds, waterfowl and other poultry” chapter.
Decreasing margins in farming enterprises and other issues can lead to farming more intensively – and to farm in new areas. This places pressure on natural systems and the birds and other animals which inhabit these areas. The effect on biodiversity can be negative.
A large number of birds on a farm does not automatically indicate a healthy bird population. The visible birds might abound on that farm owing to a particular resource or crop. What about the bird species which do not fit into this category? There might be some which occurred naturally in the area whose numbers drop dramatically or completely.
Farms with variety are bird-friendly farms
Whatever type of farming is practiced, there are ways of reducing the impact on bird diversity. Careful planning of new lands or any other developments which will alter the natural habitat is important. A good principle is to maintain a mosaic of different land uses on a farm. Even if a large part of the area of the farm is utilised, a range of different land uses and an intact variety of different micro-habitats will ensure a greater variety of birds can benefit from the farm.
Farm well to reduce habitat change
Alternatives to the establishment of new lands should be sought, such as more efficient farming methods to obtain increased yields from the existing lands. In general, good farming methods promote the wellbeing of the natural resources and are desirable. Even a simple example such as overgrazing of veld and too frequent veld fires will lead to habitat changes, inevitably leading to a reduction in certain bird species.
Birds need corridors too
While birds can fly, many will not fly from one isolated patch of natural vegetation to another, whereas they would move along a natural corridor. Corridors of natural vegetation should be left between lands and between buildings to allow for movement of birds and other animals. Movement to water should also be encouraged by leaving corridors of natural vegetation leading to water sources. While considering bird movement, also look at commonly-used flight paths before erecting high fences, power lines, telephone lines, wind turbines and solar panels. Large birds, including many endangered birds, are often injured or killed when they collide with prominent structures. Where tall structures are erected, visibility aids should be used in areas of increased bird movement, such by marking power lines with flappers of other similar devices.
Use the right control methods right
Plagues, pests and weeds are a fact of farming, and must be controlled for efficient production. Control does not mean eradication, and control at a tolerable level should be considered. Natural, low impact methods should be employed wherever possible. Carefully chosen biological agents are the ideal. Birds may in fact constitute just such a biological management aid, such as the oxpeckers of the bushveld which pick and eat large amounts of ticks off cattle and other large animals in a year. Similarly owls can be used as a biological control method for rodents. Erecting owl boxes will help to attract owls to the property (see heading 2).
Where the use of chemicals is necessary, careful research should be done to choose the product which will do the job with the least impact over the long term. Biodegradability, frequency of use, effects on other organisms, and accuracy of application are all important factors to consider in making a choice. Once the product is selected, the instructions of use should be followed closely, and all possible efforts must be made to avoid effects on other organisms, also known as non-target species. Insecticides are particularly dangerous, and suppliers and manufacturers should be quizzed regarding the above issues.
Farming and birds can mix
Just as one must know the life-cycles of the pests to combat them, so by getting to know the birds’ behaviour, feeding and nesting habits, one can design new developments and general farming practices to promote their wellbeing. As custodians of the earth and the biodiversity in it, this is our duty and not a luxury.
Source: Dr At Kruger, Dr Pete Irons, Denokeng Bird Bash, Seringveld Conservancy, Gauteng Conservancy Association
Find Bird-friendly burning and grazing best-practice for grasslands (in English, Afrikaans and Zulu) under “Publications” at www.birdlife.org.za.
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