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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f770520000The Allegheny Front is a radio program covering environmental issues in Western Pennsylvania. The Allegheny Front began in 1991 and continues to serve the community as the most insightful source of local and regional environmental news and information on the radio. The program explores environmental issues affecting the community through stories, interviews, news, and commentaries.

Turns Out Birds Like To Eat Local, Too

Mark Duncan
Two black-capped chicadees perch in a shrub.

Native plants are better for birds than non-native plants.

That’s the main finding of a study on chickadees and the caterpillars they eat.


Credit D. Tallamy courtesy of Desiree Narango
A Carolina chickadee with its caterpillar dinner.

Desiree Narango is the lead author. She’s a research fellow at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware.

“From the chickadee’s perspective, it’s as if a non-native plant isn’t even there at all because they almost never forage in them,” she says.

Narango studied the chickadees that look for food in people’s backyards in cities and suburbs. She found that native plants were better homes for the caterpillars that chickadees eat.

Credit B. Stewart courtesy of Desiree Narango
Researcher Desiree Narango with a white-breasted nuthatch.

“But most importantly, we found the backyards that had more native plant species were much more likely to have breeding pairs of chickadees as well,” she says.

And she says some native plants seem to be especially good.

“We did find some species like oaks and cherries and elms support many species of caterpillars, so they’re also really great food hubs for birds,” says Narango.

She says hickories and maples are good too; you can check out Narango’s list of which native plants hosted the most caterpillars here (click on the words “lepidoptera index”).

Find this report and others at the site of our partner, Allegheny Front. 

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