Birds play an important role in controlling pests in oil palm plantations. The most useful bird is the barn owl (Tyto alba) which is known for its capability to control rat population. There are other less popular bird species such as Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) and the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier). These two species prey on insects and therefore play an important role in insect pest control.
Yellow Vented Bulbul
Oil palm plantation owners are encouraged to have more bird species in their estates. By having these birds in their plantations, the usage of harmful pesticides can be reduced; thus reducing cost and harmful impact on the environment. However, bird species such as the Long-tailed Parakeet (Psittacula longicauda) that feeds on oil palm fruitlets can cause some losses. Nevertheless, the damage caused by this bird is small compared to those caused by rats and insect pests.
Long-tailed Parakeet feed on oil palm fruitlets. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Planters are also encouraged to allow shrubs like Indian Rhododenron (Melastoma malabathricum) to grow naturally in their estates. This shrub produces berries that feed the birds and this will encourage them to nest in oil palm plantations.
Indian Rhododendron (flower and berries). Photo credit: Temasek Junior College
There are two major threats to birds in oil palm plantations. The first is from the use of chemical pesticides. Salim et al., (2016) found that within 30 months, a population of 40 barn owls was reduced to two. Many were found dead with bleeding from the nostrils, which is a characteristic of anti-coagulant rodenticide poisoning. He also suggested that rodenticides do not only kill owls but can also induce compromised or stunted growth.
The other threat the birds are facing is from hunting activities. Beautiful melodious species such as the Long-tailed Parakeet (Psittacula longicauda), Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) and White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) are hunted for pets. These birds provide important ecosystem services such as pest control, pollinators and seed dispersal. These birds are also protected under the national law and hunting them is illegal.
In conclusion, birds play important roles in keeping the ecosystem in balance, not just in natural forest habitat, but also in oil palm plantations. Having birds in the oil palm plantations will be beneficial in controlling pests. The birds are able to reduce dependency on chemical pesticides thus reducing costs and minimizing negative impact on the environment.
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