Featured Soil Builder: The Noble Butcherbird

Featured Soil Builder: The Noble Butcherbird

On a regenerative ranch like ours, we celebrate the wildlife that chooses to co-create in our presence. Near and dear to our hearts are the incredibly diverse and delightful forms of wildlife that take to the sky. It turns out that thriving populations of wild birds are not only a good indicator of overarching land health, they also serve as ecological engineers, creating much needed balance in a complex system.tay

When we purchased ROAM Ranch in 2017, one of the first ecological monitoring exercises we conducted was a spring bird count. Not to our surprise, after 80 years of industrial chemical agricultural practices, we only identified 10 species of birds on the ranch. Consistent with the concept of "As above, so below," the land lacked habitat, food, water, and other vital resources for birds. Since managing the ranch through regenerative principles for the last 7 years, we have dramatically shifted our landscape from a synthetic monoculture, to a thriving, diverse ecosystem. As of our last bird count, we have identified over 140 different species of birds who call this land home! This is yet another humbling reminder that Mother Nature's capacity for forgiveness is greater than our species tendency for destruction.

Of all the delightful birds who cohabitate with us, the Loggerhead Shrike creates a disproportionate positive impact despite its small size. Commonly referred to as the "Butcherbird," our native shrike is a voracious carnivore who thoroughly hunts our grasslands seeking to harvest as many "pest" insects as he can find. Lacking the size and strength of larger birds of prey, the shrike impales his victim on barbed wire fences, the thorns of a cactus, or the equally sharp mesquite tree. This behavior is where the common name of Butcherbird originates. The "larders" — which display the impaled insects — are left to "age" until the shrike is satisfied with the condition of his next meal.

Instead of spraying insecticides to control undesirable insect populations, Mother Nature gifted our planet with predator species that create and maintain balance. By targeting insects that damage our pastures, the Butcherbird allows us to more successfully grow diverse plant assortments, build soil health, and optimize available plant nutrition for our bison herd. Through our management, we intentionally set a place at the dinner table for these predatory songbirds and watch in amazement as they debug our land.

Here's to all the Butcherbirds migrating across our great country this spring! We hope the wind is at your back, the barbed wire fences stay sharp, and your bellies are full of grasshoppers.