Tuesday, April 14, 2015

High value of cattails as wildlife habitat

Least bittern

North pond, Ann Dever Park

An experience last night reminded me of the high value of cattail marsh as wetland bird habitat.  There was a report on eBird of a least bittern at Ann Dever Park on San Casa in Englewood.  Margaret and I went by just before sunset and examined the four constructed ponds and a ditch.  The large northern pond just south of the dog park had a least bittern foraging in the cattails (see photos) and one additional least bittern was found in the ditch that parallels San Casa.  There were three marsh wrens singing in the cattails of the northern pond.  It is likely that these two species are breeding here.

The northern pond is about one half open water (and thus likely deeper than three feet) and one half dense cattails in shallower water.  This type of habitat is normally considered poor and often is sprayed to kill the cattails.  However it is apparent that the large dense patch of cattails is in fact excellent habitat for least bitterns and marsh wrens, both highly desirable species.  Many other wetland birds such as little blue and green herons and moorhens were feeding along the shorelines.

Thus despite the dogmatic view that cattails are undesirable, it is obvious that this is not always the case and that constructed wetlands containing such dense cattail stands can be very productive wetlands indeed for birds.

Retaining cattails as wildlife habitat would be very beneficial in saving the considerable funds needed to kill (by spraying toxic herbicides or by hand cutting/pulling) and remove this native but invasive species, and to plant other wetland vegetation.  

Bill Dunson

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