May 8 is International Migratory Bird Day. Created in 1993, International Migratory Bird Day focuses attention on the remarkable migration of 90 per cent of Canada’s birds back from the southern United States, Mexico and Central America.
Unfortunately, many of those bird populations are in decline. The reasons are varied and sometimes uncertain, but mitigated somewhat by ready access to an abundant food supply.
For many of the grassland birds, that food supply means grasshoppers. In agriculture, however, extraordinary numbers of grasshoppers can mean crop damage.
Believing that every insect has its ecological role, Dan Johnson at the University of Lethbridge wrote a book on how to identify grasshoppers on the Canadian Prairies. Grasshopper Identification and Control Methods, conceptualized by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, helps readers identify pest species of grasshoppers from non-pest species.
There are four general rules of thumb when it comes to identifying non-pest species of grasshoppers, Johnson noted.
“The first rule is any grasshopper flying before June is not a pest,” he said.
The second rule is that crop pest grasshoppers hatch in late May and early June, are brown or black and always have tiny triangular wing buds, not large wings that can be folded back when examined closely.
The third rule: any hopper with hind wings highly visible in flight (red, yellow, orange or black) is not a pest. The fourth rule: any grasshopper that sings, calls, clacks, clatters or makes other similar sounds is not a pest. The pest species are silent, Johnson said.
The book is an easy read, starting with how to recognize grasshopper ages and stages. There are great photographs of pest species, like the two-striped grasshopper and the neutral or beneficial species.
Reducing the cost of pest management can only be a good thing, said Lynn Grant, chair of the environment committee for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).
“The other major benefit is that by being very selective in taking out only the grasshoppers that are a serious problem for agriculture, producers also protect the food supply for the Prairie grassland songbirds,” said Grant.