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Feeding the Birds

Posted 6/13/2012 7:41am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Wednesday, June 13

Mowing fence strips through tall grass the other day, I felt I might be part of Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds" because of the many swallows that were darting around me.  I've noticed the same effect every time the sheep go dashing into a new paddock of tall grass; the birds accompany them, flitting about and chirping noisily. Far from being frightening however, this avian accompaniment to our farming routines convinces me that grazing sheep and beef is a form of agriculture that has many ecological benefits. Hay mowers and combines stir up insects much like sheep and beef moving into a new pasture, but they are not so nice to grass nesting birds like killdeer, meadowlarks, and Bobwhites. Birds and herbivores work well together; it is a pattern repeated in grasslands and savannahs around the world.  How often do we see pictures of giraffes with tick birds perched on their sides?  Or water buffalo carrying myna birds on their legs? Grazing animals, grassland birds, grasses, and humans have a mutually beneficial relationship that has evolved over many years; food for the birds, insect relief for the ruminants, seed propagation for the grasses, and moments to contemplate the complex beauty of the natural world for us two legged, thick-headed creatures.