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What Did the Katydid Sing?

Two weeks into writing a garden question column for the Chronicle, that is 2 columns published, though I've written 4. The letters are pouring in and they are all interesting. I've gotten the first reply that I want to reprint.

The letter is about birds as a management method for katydids, those green, leaf-imitating relatives of grasshoppers that sing at night and munch on plants. The letter writer says that the insects hatch at the same time as baby birds, so if you leave a birdbath or bird feeder in the garden at that time, the birds will go after the young katydids to feed their young.

While I know that most birds need insects to feed their babies high protein food in spring, it is great to know that they are particularly fond of katydids. I don't have the critters, but for those that do, I'm sure this will be good news. And, because the katydids in question only hatch in the spring, this method would certainly be a big help.

I still think that one would need to tip the scales a bit with other methods, since the katydids have apparently built up to a large population in a small garden, but here is another reason not to use pesticides toxic to birds. I suggested a garlic oil spray (recipe in last Wednesday's column on www.sfgate.com) and other methods, most of which should spare the birds.

Incidentally, the Chinese, for a couple of thousand years, have kept both crickets and katydids as pets in order to listen to their songs. The insects have been kept in little cages, some of them quite elegant, and some of them designed to be carried everywhere the owner went. However, the songs of katydids vary, some being little more than clicks, and I don't know whether the ones in our area have a nice chirp.

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