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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
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Don’t Get “Bugged” This Summer

Posted by Jason Haupt -

The weather is finally beginning to change and the desire to be outside is getting stronger. Every year I have to remind myself that I need to wait to start working in the garden and begin planting. If you are like me, you like to just sit and enjoy the beauty of your yard on summer evenings. The warm breeze, a cold drink in hand, and friends and family make warm weather all the more enjoyable. There seems to be just one thing that can ruin your evenings faster than Usain Bolt - biting insects. There are lots of solutions for combating biting insects, but before you reach for chemicals here are a few suggestions to consider.

  • Attract some insect-eating birds to your yard. There are plenty of birds that will think of your yard as an all-you-can-eat buffet, if you make it an attractive place. All birds eat insects for part of the year and young birds are fed heavily on insects. To attract any bird, you will need to provide shelter, space, food, and water. Keep a few general rules in mind when trying to attract all kinds of birds. Birds need lots of space and putting up tall privacy fences creates fragmented habitats and can be highly detrimental to getting birds to come and live in your yard. Water is an important factor in attracting birds. A bird bath is an easy way to offer water for birds. Bird feeders and a range of food-producing plants provide a wide variety of food for birds throughout the year. Only having food for part of the year will keep birds from staying, and they will move on to a steadier food source. Attracting birds like Swallows and Purple Martins is a great way to help reduce the biting insect population. They are voracious eaters of all biting insects and they eat large amounts of mosquitos. Even song birds will help to control biting insects.
  • Purple Martins are very particular when it comes to habitats. The Purple Martin is a highly social bird and they nest in colonies. Location is very important. Purple Martins catch their food in the air, so they need lots of space to maneuver in the air. The general rule of thumb is to keep the Martin houses at least 40 feet from the nearest tall tree or human occupied or used building. More information can be found at www.purplemartin.org.
  • Swallows tend to be less particular and can be a little easier to attract. They will often build nests under the eaves of your home or will nest in bird houses depending on the species. Open spaces are still highly desirable as Swallows also hunt and catch their food while in the air.
  • Attract bats to your yard. Now this may seem like a bad idea to many, but bats are very beneficial. Providing a bat house is an excellent way of attracting bats to your yard. Location again is the key to attracting bats. Place the bat house on a house, barn, garage, or pole at least 15 feet off the ground. Ideally the bat house should be placed facing the southeast to take advantage of morning sun. Patience is the key as it can take up to three years to attract bats. But once they are in place, they will help to reduce the number of biting insects around your home. More information is available at www.batconservation.org.
  • Bat conservation.org is also auctioning off bat houses that have been made from the set of Batman vs. Superman. This is a chance to both help bats by providing housing for the bats and donating to an organization that is doing research and outreach to educate people about bats. Also you will own your very own piece of the Batman vs Superman set.
  • Provide habitat for predatory insects of biting insects. If you have wet areas in your yard, consider planting a rain garden or putting in a small wetland or pond to attract insects like dragonflies. Dragonflies prey heavily on mosquitos and are a double threat to mosquitos. Adult dragonflies prey on both adult and larval mosquitos. Larval dragonflies prey on larval mosquitos. Mayflies, like dragonflies, also prey on both life stages mosquitos. Most aquatic beetles also prey on larval mosquitos and other biting insects.
  • If you have a pond or water in your yard, make sure that you have a diverse ecosystem to attract turtles, amphibians and support fish. All of these animals eat the larva of biting insects and will help to reduce the number of adults that there are to bite you.

Work with your local park districts to improve habitat in areas that will support these animals. Form a group of volunteers to monitor and maintain Purple Martin houses in the parks. Establish wetlands around the wet areas in parks to encourage infiltration and reduce standing water. Reducing standing water will reduce the breeding habitat for many of these biting insects and will make your backyard a much more pleasant place to be during the warmer months of the year.



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