Tag Archives: birds

Pest Watch: Emerald Ash Borer

by Susan Ndiaye, Community Horticulture Educator

Close up of an ash tree in which the bark has fallen off leaving a light tan color area
Woodpecker damage on ash tree

Hopefully you’ve spent some time outside enjoying the beautiful spring weather we had last weekend.   Did you noticed any ash trees that look like they have been completely stripped of their bark?  Did you wonder what happened?  Did you think it was a disease, an insect or maybe a deer?  This damaged is actually caused by woodpeckers.  They are searching for emerald ash borer larvae which can be found just below the bark.

Slender shiny emerald green beetle with large black eyes standing on a leaf
Adult emerald ash borer

The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is an shiny emerald-colored jewel beetle.  Native to Asia, it was first discovered in North America near Detroit, Michigan in 2002 (most likely hitching a ride here in solid wood packing materials used in the transportation of goods).

Despite its beauty, the emerald ash borer is an invasive insect and has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees throughout North America.  As of April 2020, it has been found in 35 states and 5 Canadian provinces costing municipalities, property owners, nursery operators and forestry product industries hundreds of millions of dollars.

Emerald Ash Borer Lifecycle as described in the textLifecycle

Emerald ash borers, like all beetles, undergo complete metamorphosis.  Usually in June and July, adult females lay 60-90 eggs on the bark of ash trees (Fraxinus spp.).  The eggs hatch and the larvae bore through the outer bark and begin feeding on the inner bark or phloem of the ash tree.  The larvae feed for several weeks growing to rough 1 to 1.25 inches in length.  The larvae then overwinter in the bark.  In the spring they pupate and finally in May and June emerge as adults and exit their host tree by creating a D-shaped whole in the bark.  The adults feed on the leaves of the ash tree, mate, and females lay eggs starting the cycle over.


As mentioned before, the larvae of the emerald ash borer feed on the inner bark or phloem of the ash tree.  The phloem is part of the vascular system of the plant and is responsible for transporting the sugars produced by photosynthesis in the leaves to the rest of tree.  Damage to the phloem cuts of the nutrient supply and eventually leads to the death of the tree.

An ashe tree with no leaves inthe canopy but lots of leafy shoots covering the trunk
Dying ash tree

One of the first symptoms produced by an emerald ash borer infestation is a thinning canopy.  With fewer leaves the tree’s ability to produce food through photosynthesis decreases and as a result the tree may produce lots of  shoots that sprout from the roots and trunk.  The leaves on these shoots are often larger than normal as the tree tries to compensate for its loss of photosynthetic capability.   The tree’s canopy will continue to thin eventually leaving the tree bare.

Many people do not notice that the canopy of their ash tree is thinning.  For many people, the first symptom that they notice is the woodpecker damage on the trunk.  At this point the tree is usually heavily infested by emerald ash borer and will soon succumb to the infestation.


The emerald ash borer was first detected in New York State in 2009 over in  Cattaraugus County.   Two years later, in 2011, it was detected here in Orange County.  As of right now the majority of trees in Orange County have been infested by the emerald ash borer and are showing signs of decline or have died.   Once you notice that the canopy of your ash tree is thinning  there has already been extensive damage to the vascular system of the tree and even with treatment there is little chance of recovery.

Deciding whether or not to treat your ash tree is up to you.  The first thing to do is make sure you properly identify your tree.

Once you have properly identified your tree there are three option: cut it, treat it, or leave it.

Cut It

Ash trees that create a potential hazard (i.e. proximity to a building) need to be removed.   If you cannot safely remove the tree yourself,  look for a certified arborist near you at www.treesaregood.org.   Many ash trees are being turned into firewood.  Keep in mind that New York State law prohibits the movement of firewood more than 50 miles (linear distance) from its source, specifically to prevent the accidental movement of invasive species like the emerald ash borer.   Don’t Move Firewood!Dontmovefirewood.org

Treat It

Remember that that if you tree is already showing signs of decline it is probably too late to save it through treatment.

If you decide you want to treat your ash tree(s), it is not just a one time investment.  Most treatments only last one or two years before they wear off leaving the tree susceptible to infestation.  This means trees need to be treated ever couple years since at the moment the emerald ash borer looks like it is here to stay.

There are many insecticides on the market that are labeled for emerald ash borer.  Many of them need to be applied by a certified pesticide applicator.  If you are interested in protecting your ash tree(s) check out  Insecticide Options for Protecting Ash Trees from Emerald Ash Borer for more information.

Leave It

If your ash tree poses no potential hazard, consider leaving it.  Although the emerald ash borer has killed millions of ash trees here in North America, there is hope the identification of “lingering ash” or an ash that stays healthy after nearby trees have overwhelmingly succumbed to the emerald ash borer.  The identification of “lingering ash” could help achieve ash species conservation.   Click here to learn more about how you can become a citizen scientist with the Lingering Ash Search through the Monitoring and Managing Ash Program.Decision Tree integrating long-term conservation perspective: Cut it, Treat it, Leave it, Treat

Fun Facts
Biological Control

Although there are some predatory wasps that feed on emerald ash borers, the two avenues of biological control that have shown potential in being able to help manage populations of emerald ash borer are parasitoid wasps and entomopathogenic fungi.

parasitoid wasp
Parasitoid wasp (Spathius galinae)

Let’s start with the parasitoid wasps.  Three species of parasitoid wasps found in the emerald ash borer’s native range were were considered potential biological control agents.  These parasitoids are natural enemies of the emerald ash borer and have long ovipositors that allow them to drill into the ash trees and lay their eggs on the emerald ash borer larvae.  Once the eggs hatch the wasp larvae consume the emerald ash borer larvae alive.  (Note: In order to get permission to release these parasitoid wasps in the United Stated, it took four or five years of research to make sure that they  were host specific to emerald ash borer and wouldn’t impact any other similar species.)  Of the three species released, two are showing promise, although research is still being done regarding their dispersal, spread, and ability to overwinter.

Onto the entomopathogenic fungus, Beauveria bassiana.  When spores of this fungus come in contact with the emerald ash borer, they germinate and penetrate the cuticle of the insect.  The fungus continues growing inside the insect eventually killing it.  Although research has show that this fungus can kill the emerald ash borer, more research is need to see if it is effective form a biological control out in the field.

Two adult emerald ash borers emerging from an ash tree. One one is have way out and the other's head is just visble as in the D-shaped hole it has created.
Two emerging adult emerald ash borers

Many things in nature are governed by the weather, such as the hatching of bagworm eggs and in this case the emergence of emerald ash borer adults.  You can track this year’s emergence using the “Emerald Ash Borer Forecast“.  This forecast is updated daily and available six days in the future.  Emerald ash borer adults are rarely seen.  Once they emerge, they fly up into the canopy to feed on the leaves.  But if you know when they are emerging you can be on the look out and might be lucky enough to find one.

The Oleaceae Family
Olive tree branch with two clusters of olives
Olive tree

The ash tree is a member of the Oleacae Family and researchers have found that the emerald ash borer can also complete its life cycle in another well-known member of the Oleacae family, the olive tree (Olea europaea).  Although this has only been shown in a laboratory project, there is a possibility that the emerald ash borer could become a problem for olive growers.

Another member of the Oleacae family, the white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is also used as a host for the emerald ash borer.  Although when infested some of these trees don’t survive, a recent study found that white fringetrees are likely to withstand attacks by the emerald ash borer.


Ash Tree Identification – Michigan State University Extension

Distinguishing Ash from other Common Trees – Michigan State University Extension

Emerald Ash Borer Information Network

Emerald Ash Borer Forecast – National Phenology Network

Insecticide Options for Protecting Ash Trees from Emerald Ash Borer

Signs and Symptoms of the Emerald Ash Borer – Michigan State University Extension

Upcoming Events: Online Gardening Workshops

Looking for some online gardening classes?  Here are some being offered by Cornell Cooperative Extensions around the state.

A baby deer (fawn) munching on clower in a lawnGardening with Deer

Friday, April 17, 2020, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

There are beautiful plants deer don’t like to eat! Incorporate these perennials, annuals and shrubs in your landscape to create an attractive yard with three seasons of bloom. Also learn about physical and scent strategies to reduce deer browsing in your yard

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Suffolk County

Wicker basket full of lettuce, tomaotes, peppers, beets, turnips,onions and a sprig of mintOrganic Vegetable Garden

Monday, April 20, 2020, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Learn how to grow food in your backyard. This session covers the 5 keys to a successful vegetable garden: location, soil preparation, plan, planting choices and good maintenance. No green thumb needed to get started.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Suffolk County

Turquoise handled pruning shears surrounde by flower petalsTraining and Pruning Trees

Monday, April 20, 6:30 PM -7:30 PM

Learn about the pruning when trees are young to shape their future, and pruning needs as trees grow.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Tompkins County

A butterfly on a pink zinniaPollinator Gardens

Tuesday, April 21, 2020, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Butterflies, birds and the other pollinators need host plants for nectar, food and lodging. By introducing three seasons of key pollinator plants into your garden, you can create a pollinator-friendly habitat in your front and back yard. Discover the best planting arrangements as well the many colorful and hardy plants attractive to pollinators

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Suffolk County

Plastic Waste - a pile of plastic water bottles, straws, pill packs and bagsGet Drastic with Plastic

Wednesday, April 22, 2020, 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Happy Earth Day! Join our discussion about the harm that plastics do to our environment, and how we can each reduce our consumption of single use plastics.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Putnam County

Someone spraying a container of seedlings with alarge yellow spray bottlSafe Pesticide Use for Home Gardeners

Wednesday, April 22, 2020, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

No matter what type of garden you have, chances are you will encounter problems. Join us for a presentation introducing home gardeners to alternative pest control methods to use before reaching for a pesticide. When a pesticide is necessary, learn about product selection and proper application techniques to protect yourself as well as the environment. This presentation will focus on less toxic alternatives and provide proper safety tips when using or storing pesticides.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Oneida County

Wicker basket full of lettuce, tomaotes, peppers, beets, turnips,onions and a sprig of mintOrganic Vegetable Gardening

Thursday, April 23, 2020, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Learn how to grow food in your backyard. This session covers the 5 keys to a successful vegetable garden: location, soil preparation, plan, planting choices and good maintenance. No green thumb needed to get started.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Suffolk County

Dark red trillium - Flower with three petals and large white stemens in the middleNative Plants in your Garden

Friday, April 24, 2020, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Native plants are the best choices for Long Island gardeners. Not only are they vigorous and attractive, but native plants support our pollinators. Discover the increasing array of handsome native plants that can you can incorporate in your landscape.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Suffolk County

Wicker basket full of lettuce, tomaotes, peppers, beets, turnips,onions and a sprig of mintGrow Your Own Vegetables

Saturday, April 25, 2020, 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

This class is perfect for folks who are in their first year or so of gardening. You’ll learn how to pick a location for your garden, plan what to grow, make sure your soil is healthy, and more!

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Putnam County

Turquoise handled pruning shears surrounde by flower petalsPruning Shrubs

Monday, April 27, 6:30 PM -7:30 PM

Learn about practices that make shrubs look new again and help them fit in the landscape.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Tompkins County

Hummingbird feeding from a red flowerHummingbirds in your Garden

Monday, April 27, 2020, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Create the proper habitat for these magical creatures by providing them with nectar sources from appropriate flowers and sugar feeders. If you build the right garden for them, they will come! Discover amazing facts about these tiny birds while viewing photographs of them in action.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Suffolk County

A garden patch of magenta, orange and yellow zinniasGrowing Cut Flowers

Wednesday, April 29, 2020, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

What a joyful privilege to bring colorful blooms inside! Join us to learn about annual flower varieties that are easy to grow in your home garden and lend themselves to making beautiful arrangements.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Tompkins County

Pile of kitchen scraps, mostly peels of various fruits and vegetables, spead out on top of a compost pileComposting Basics

Wednesday, April 29, 2020, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

What should you do with all your vegetable scraps? Join Holly Wise, Consumer Horticulture Resource Educator, for composting basics. She will explain the composting process and the benefits of using compost in your gardens. She will provide a recipe for making it. Along with discussing the different types of compost systems.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Oneida County

Bumble bee on a pink flowerPlant a Pollinator Paradise

Saturdays, May 2 &  9, 2020, 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM

Pollinators are in trouble, but luckily each of us can have a part in ensuring a healthy environment for them. Join us for an in depth and interactive look at how to plan and create a pollinator garden on your property. Whether you have acres or just a front porch, you can create pollinator habitat. This is a two-part class with some at-home work.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Putnam County

A cluster of cherry tomatoes growing on a tomato plant wet with the morning dew.Growing Vegetables and Small Fruits

Wednesday, May 6, 2020, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

There’s magic in growing your own food, whether it’s a just-picked tomato or a handful of fresh strawberries. However, growing your own food doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t even need a large space. Join us and learn what you need to know to get started, focusing on smaller spaces, including raised beds and using containers for your fruits and vegetables. Learn the importance of good soil, when and how to plant, how to use seeds and transplants, what grows best in this area, how to deal with pests, and where to go for help.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Oneida County

April is Citizen Science Month!

What is citizen science? 

Scientists are limited in the amount of data they can collect by both time and money.  With help from members of the general public, known as citizen scientists, researchers are able to crowd source data collection collecting more data from more places helping them find answers to real-world questions.

So if you want to do something fun and educational that contributes to the advancement of scientific knowledge, consider becoming a citizen scientist.

Citizen Science Projects

Monarch Butterfly (Orang and Black) - Jouney NorthThe Journey North

This project focuses on migration and seasonal changes.   People all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico, report sightings of birds, monarchs, frogs, and other organism.   Watch as reported sightings are mapped in real-time as waves of migrations that move across the continent.

inaturalist logoi-Naturalist

iNaturalist lets you photograph, identify, and document what’s around you.  Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed.  By sharing your observations with scientists, you will help build our understanding of the natural world.

Never Home Alone

In studying life, scientists have overlooked many regions. Some regions have not been studied because they are so remote. Others because they are so diverse that it is hard to know where to even begin. Then there is the great indoors, which we believe has been understudied in part because it is so immediate. This project aims to document the species that live indoors with humans.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Logo with Bird in MiddleThe Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world contribute bird observations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology each year, gathering data on a scale once unimaginable. Scientists use these data to reveal how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, disease, climate, and other environmental changes. Your participation will help trace bird migration, nesting success, and changes in bird numbers through time.

Celebrate Urban Birds

Celebrate Urban Birds is a citizen science project focused on better understanding the value of green spaces for birds. This project connects people of all ages and backgrounds to birds and the natural world through the arts and fun neighborhood activities.


The goal of this project is to gather this information on bird sightings, archive it, and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education.  e-Bird also develops tools that make birding more rewarding.  It provides the most current and useful information to the birding community from photos and audio recordings, to seeing real-time maps of species distribution and alerts that let you know when species have been seen.


NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive.  Their database is intended to be used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.

Logo - The Tick App - Bulls Eye with a the outline of a tick in the miidle suurounded by the words The Tick AppThe Tick App

The Tick App allows people living in high-risk areas for Lyme disease, like Orange County New York, to participate in a tick behavioral study.   Participants complete daily logs and report ticks.  The app provides information on how to remove ticks, prevent tick bites, and general information about ticks.   When enough people are involved, it can also provides information about blacklegged and deer tick activity in our area.

Monarch Caterpilar (Yellow, white, black stripped) on a green leaf - Monarch Larva Monitoring ProjectMonarch Larva Monitoring Program

This citizen science project’s mission is to better understand the distribution and abundance of breeding monarchs and to use that knowledge to inform and inspire monarch conservation.  People from across the United States and Canada participate in this monarch research.  Their observations aid in conserving monarchs and their threatened migratory phenomenon, and advance the understanding of butterfly ecology in general.

Logo - Monarch Watch.org Education, Conservation, ResearchMonarch Watch

Monarch Watch strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. They engage in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration.

Monarch Calendar Project

In the spring and fall volunteers collect observations of adult monarchs.  This information is used to  assemble quantitative data on monarch numbers at critical times during the breeding season.

Tagging Monarchs

Each fall Monarch Watch distributes more than a quarter of a million tags to thousands of volunteers across North America who tag monarchs as they migrate through their area. These citizen scientists capture monarchs throughout the migration season, record the tag code, tag date, gender of the butterfly, and geographic location then tag and release them. At the end of the tagging season, these data are submitted to Monarch Watch and added to their database to be used in research.

Logo - The Lost Ladybug ProjectThe Lost Ladybug Project

In the past twenty years, native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare.  During this same time, ladybugs from other parts of the world have greatly increased in both numbers and range. This is happening very quickly and no one knows how, why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity.  Citizen scientists involved in this project help scientists answer these questions by photographing ladybugs and submitting the photos along with information about when and where the ladybugs were found.

Logo - Vegetable Varieties for GardenersVegetable Varieties for Gardeners

A project of Cornell University’s Garden Based Learning, this web forum provides an avenue for gardeners to share knowledge.  Gardeners report what vegetable varieties perform well – and not so well – in their gardens.  Other gardeners can view ratings and read the reviews to decide which might work well for them.  Researchers  use the information gain new insight into the performance of vegetable varieties under a wide range of conditions and practices. The information gathered is also used to make a  Selected List of Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners in New York State.

Logo - The outline of New York State under a picture of a moth, a beetle, a moth and a fly with the words Empire State Native Pollinator SurveyEmpire State Native Pollinator Survey

Native pollinators play an essential role in the pollination of flowering plants, including native plants and wildflowers, garden plants, as well as cultivated crops. Some native pollinator species have suffered population declines over the last few decades.   Participants  in this study submit photographs and/or specimens to help  determine the conservation status of a wide array of native insect pollinators in non-agricultural habitats.


iMapInvasives is an on-line, GIS-based data management system used to assist citizen scientists and natural resource professionals working to protect our natural resources from the threat of invasive species.  Citizen scientists are provided with resources to help them identify invasive species. Their invasive species findings are aggregated with data from a wide variety of sources contributing to early detection of invasive species as well as analysis of management strategies.

A curated beetle collection with pinned specimens above tagsNotes from Nature

Natural history museums across the world share a common goal – to conserve and make available knowledge about natural and cultural heritage. The Notes from Nature project gives you the opportunity to make a scientifically important contribution towards that goal by transcribing museum records. Every transcription that is completed brings us closer to filling gaps in our knowledge of global biodiversity and natural heritage.

Logo - citizenscience.orgCitizen Science Database

This is an official government website designed to accelerate the use of crowdsourcing and citizen science across the U.S. government.  It includes a searchable database of  a government-wide listing of citizen science and crowdsourcing projects designed to improve cross-agency collaboration, reveal opportunities for new high-impact projects, and make it easier for volunteers to find out about projects they can join.

Become a Citizen Scientist today!

What’s in Bloom?

Bright red flowers on the branch of a red maple tree
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

by Susan Ndiaye, Community Horticulture Educator

Signs of spring abound!   Bird songs fill the air.  Buds on the trees are starting to unfurl.   New shoots are breaking through the soil.  And flowers are beginning to bloom!

Here are some of the flowers to look out for as you venture outside for a breath of fresh air.

When most people think of maple trees, flowers aren’t the first thing that comes to mind.  Red maples are native to the eastern United States and happen to be one of the first trees to flower in the spring.  Their bright pink to red flowers result in the production of thousands of winged fruits called samaras, colloquially referred to as helicopters.  After ripening on the trees for several weeks they will fill the air and litter the ground.

A branch of forsythia in full blloom - yellow flowers
Forsythia spp.

Although many people equate the yellow blossoms of the forsythia with the beginning of spring, the forsythia is not native to New York; it actually native to eastern Asia.  This fast growing shrub is a favorite among homeowners, because it is tolerant to deer, resistant to Japanese beetles, and rarely has disease problems.   If you are looking for a native alternative to forsythia, try spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  This medium sized multi-stemmed shrub has fragrant yellow-green flowers in early spring and supports 12 species of butterflies and  provides berries for the birds.

Snowdrop - small white flower held between someone's thumb and forefinger
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)
Bunches of white ane purple crocuses
Crocus spp.

One of the many joys of spring is the emergence of all the spring flowering bulbs.   Some of them are already blooming: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils (my favorite flower!).   Despite its sometime unsightly appearance, make sure you leave  the foliage alone until it turns yellow and dies back.  This allows the leaves of the plant to produce food through photosynthesis.  This food is stored in the bulb and will be used  to produce even more beautiful flowers next spring!

Hellebores are also flowering! This evergreen herbaceous perennial is native to Turkey, but does well here in Orange County.  It grows well in full or partial shade and has beautiful white to pink to purple flowers that bloom in late winter into  early spring.  Hellebores are rarely damaged by deer and as they are evergreen, after their flowers fade, they make an attractive ground cover

Pink Hellebores (Helleborus spp.)
Varigated pink and with flowe with stringy yellow stamens in the center
Varigated Hellebores (Helleborus spp.)
White flowers with bright yellow stamens in the center
White Hellebores (Helleborus spp.)

As you are out enjoying the sunshine, what other signs of spring do see or hear or smell?

Thanks to all of the Master Gardener Volunteers who provided their thoughts and photos for this post!

The Great Backyard Bird Count has begun!

A bright red male cardinal perched a twig as snow falls The Great Backyard Bird count has begun! Starting today, February 14th until Monday, February 17th you are invited to join this citizen science project in which people all over the world spend at least 15 minutes simply counting the numbers and kinds of birds that they see.

This project began in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.  Just last year over 200,000 people in 100 countries participated and counting over 6,800 species of birds.

The data collected from the Great Backyard Bird Count helps scientist learn more about bird populations including population fluctuation, migration timing, effects of climate change, etc. This is extremely important as birds are great indicator species and in North America we have seen significant decline in bird population in the past 50 years!A black crow standing on the snowy ground

So please take 15 minutes of you time today, tomorrow, Sunday and/or Monday and participate in this amazing opportunity to contribute to scientific research!

Click here to learn how to join the Great Backyard Bird Count!

Related link:

Birds as Indicator Species – Ornithology: The Science of Birds

North America has lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the last 50 years, new study says – National Audubon Society


Color, Color Everywhere – or maybe not!

By Brooke Moore, New Windsor, Senior Master Gardener Volunteer

This article appeared in the September 2019 Issue of Gardening in Orange County. Click here to subscribe!

We live in a colorful world filled with plants, animals, and objects that are brightly colored or, in some cases, patterned, or even singular in color.  As humans we often think that the rest of the world sees itself and its surroundings in the same way that we do. But nothing could be further than the truth.

A cirlce filled with dots of varying sizes all in arying shade of red except for the green dots, of varying shades, that form a large 'W' spaning the width of the circle.
An Ishihar plate, used by optometrists and ophthalmologists to test for color blindness.
As a teenager I had a wonderful friend, John, who was the first person I knew who was colorblind.  Not just color insensitive, as many are, but truly and completely unable to perceive any color at all.  His experience of the world was totally opposite to mine, as I am one of the lucky or in some ways unlucky people who perceive way more color than most people do.  His daily view of things was more like that of a rabbit, who see in shades of darkness and light and contrast.

Close up of a blue human eye.
Human eye

Learning more about how he saw the world and experienced paintings, gardens and simple things like traffic lights began my interest in color and how we can manipulate our surroundings based on adding or subtracting colors from a situation.

Close-uo of the head of a fly - white head, lots of black hairs and large red eyes in which you can see teh individaul lenses
Fly eye

The animals who live among us and in our gardens perceive color in many different ways, and they interact with the plants we grow depending on what they see and how they see and interpret light.

All eyes use reflected light to create images that are the basis of sight.  As humans, we have sight that can determine the shape, size and special relationship of objects, and we have sight that is color-based.

Close up of an owl eye - bright yellow eye surrounded by white, brown and black plummage
Owl eye

The same is true for animals.  Birds have keen color sight that helps them with foraging for food, identifying prey and recognizing others of their species.  Many scientists have been astonished to discover that some birds may not be able to see all the colors of their own plumage, while other birds can see more than enough colors to find and attract a mate.

Bird Vision
A graph with absorbance on the y-axis (0-1.0) and wave length (330 nm - 700 nm) on the x-axis. There are four lines on the graph, all of them bell shape-esque. The grey line peaks at 370 nm, which falls in the ultraviolet range. The blue line peaks at 445 nm, which falls in the blue range of the visble light spectrum. The green line peaks at 508 nm, which falls in the green range of the visible light spectrum. The red line peaks at 565 nm, which falls in the yellow/orange range of the visible light spectrum.
Humans usually have three types of cones allowing them to perceive light in the visible spectrum.  Some animals , including birds, have four types of cones which allows them to see ultraviolet light.

Birds see more colors than humans as they are able to use ultraviolet (UV) light due to having four types of cones in their retinas – in contrast to humans who have three types of cones.  Different species of birds have more or fewer cone cells in their retinas and thus different ability to see colors.  The ability to determine subtle differences in shades of colors is an evolving ability in birds and thought to be something that aids in adapting to change in environment and availability of food sources.

Color Vision
State Types of cone cells Approx. number of colors perceived Carriers
Monochromacy 1 200 Marine mammals, owl monkey, Australian sea lion, achromat primates
Dichromacy 2 40,000 Most terrestrial non-primate mammals, color blind primates
Trichromacy 3 10 million Most primates, especially great apes (such as humans), marsupials, some insects (such as honeybees)
Tetrachromacy 4 100 million Most reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects, rarely humans
Pentachromacy 5 10 billion Some insects (specific species of butterflies), some birds (pigeons for instance)

The UV reflection from the waxy surface of fruits and berries makes them stand out from the green of foliage – and birds are better able to find them.  Red berries are seen  best and will be eaten first, so also growing some plants that produce orange or yellow fruit will extend the feeding season.

Top picture: A sinlge stem with two flower buds and one small yellow flower with four petals. Bottom: The same photo taken in UV light. The flower is now white with a black center.
Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) photographed in visible light (top) and ultraviolet light (bottom).

Many insects also reflect UV light, making them more attractive to birds as a food source.  Certain bird eggs reflect UV light and help birds to identify their own eggs and reject those put in the nest by other birds.  Many flowers have nectar guides  that reflect UV light.  These  marking are visible to bees and butterflies allowing them to easily find the nectar at the center of the flower.

Deer have poor color vision limited to short (blue) and middle (green) wave lengths of color.  They may have some UV sensitivity but not much compared to birds.  Foxes do not see green and have little ability to see blue, red or yellow.  So, these animals are not using color in the garden to find or choose what they eat!

The head of a deer standing with its face brushing up againsta purple flower.Understanding which animals use color to find and choose food can help us in identifying plants to put into our gardens, and plants to leave out.  It also can put to rest myths like deer choosing red tulips over yellow daffodils -because they are making a choice based on taste and smell, not sight.