Food Forests as Habitat for Species Conservation

I am prompted to write this post today after discovering a beautiful blue egg laying out in plain sight below one of the blueberry bushes at our community food forest. The food forest covers a small portion of a much larger area that has a community garden and wilderness area with monitored bluebird nesting boxes. We have one box in the food forest which was near the egg. After seeing that the parents were still nearby and looking online to check my identification of the bluebird egg, I posted questions on what to do on the North American Bluebird Society‘s Facebook page. Luckily, I quickly received a response to my question of whether or not I should put the egg back in the nest:

“That’s often not a good sign. it sounds like another bird species has attempted to remove the eggs from the box. It may have been fought off after one egg was removed, but may come back. If that egg has started to be incubated, it needs to go back immediately. Has incubation started?You can determine this if the adult is not near. I check this out by touching the eggs with the back of my fingers like you would check someone’s head for fever. I always use clean, bacteria-free hands. (If my eggs were “incubation warm” with parents near and days later were now cold, I know that something has happened to the parents and that nesting is most likely over.) You learn quickly to tell the difference. So, put the egg back, and watch for a bird species predator, like a house wren or house sparrow.”

Unfortunately, my hands were not clean since I had just been gardening, but the parents were definitely around, within my sight, and there were more eggs in the nest so I opted for putting the egg back. Then I quickly went to my car a small distance away to watch what would happen. Both parents returned to the closest tree on branches just above the nesting box. They were clearly keeping one eye on me still and my work was done, so I left the premises as to leave them alone. However, I’m still wondering whether that was the right thing to do.

It also reminded me of my visit to the Roger Williams Park Edible Forest Garden in Providence, RI. Located next to a body of water the Master Gardeners helping to maintain the site found a turtle nesting and helped created a caged box around the areas to protect it from unsuspecting visitors exploring the food forest. That particular food forest along with many others that I visited promoted solitary bee habitat by mounting bee boxes on poles or trees within the food forest.

The female and male bluebird are circled in red sitting in the Eastern Redbud above the birdbox.

The whole idea of a food forest mimicking a natural forest ecosystem suggests their potential as habitat for other species besides us humans. Unfortunately, similar to food literacy, we can’t expect everyone to be eco-literate or to know how to respect or steward species that we’re providing habitat for. I consider myself a naturalist and the bluebird experience caught me by surprise. I know for our food forest we will now be making signs that educate others about the bluebird as well as what to do if an egg is found. I hope this post can serve as a reminder that food forests CAN provide excellent habitat and food for other species, which comes with great responsibility. By creating these spaces in human-dominated areas it is important to learn about the species your food forest can harbor in order to be informed on how to care for, respect, and help those species as well as to teach others about them and how we can all live in harmony together.  

Solitary bee nesting boxes in a food forest for bees like mason bees or other native species.

A turtle decided to make the edge of the food forest a nesting area and Master Gardeners that care for the site helped to provide protective caging to warn people to be on the look out and protect the nest.

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