Blue Jay and Purple Coneflower
Blue jays and purple coneflowers are both wildlife native to Massachusetts. You’ve probably seen blue jays in your own backyard, recognizable by their distinctive feathered caps and blue feathers. Maybe you’ve even heard one of their many musical calls. For those who are gardners, you may also know of echinacea, often referred to as a coneflower plant. Purple coneflower is an easily grown perennial with stems that are several feet long. When in bloom, it has a beautifully colored flower, which is good for butterflies and other pollinators. Though you may be able to identify blue jays and coneflower plants, you may not know about their ecological role. Together, these species add more than aesthetic value to a landscape, as they work together to be productive members of local ecosystems.
As a native plant, the coneflower gives more to a garden than beautiful scenery; it is a place for insects to live. Only native plants like coneflowers can provide a habitat and food source to native insect populations because native plants and animals have coevolved to rely on each other. This is especially important because insects are essential to bird populations. Birds like blue jays rely on insects from native plants to feed their young. In the summer, seeds from the coneflower give birds an additional food source, and in the winter, the plant provides much needed shelter.
Blue jays give back to ecosystems in a variety of ways as well. Birds like blue jays serve a critical role in dispersing plant seeds, which is an important process for plant species’ survival. Without anything to carry away their nuts or eat their fruit, plants are unable to spread very far, causing increased competition for resources and unhealthy plants. Additionally, ecosystems do better if there is more diversity, and if plants cannot travel, an intermix of species can not occur. In this way, the coneflower provides food and shelter for the blue jay, and in turn, the blue jay helps coneflower plants effectively reproduce.
Further reading / sources:
https://wallacesgardencenter.com/birding/how-to-be-a-friend-to-winter-birds/ https://www.audubon.org/news/10-plants-bird-friendly-yard -https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276279152_Why_Birds_Matter_Avian_Ecological_Functions_and_Ecosystem_Services