The National Audubon Society reports the average population of common birds in North America has fallen by 68 percent since 1967; some individual species’ numbers are down by as much as 80 percent.
~ Margaret A. Haapoja
Our yard is something of a mess. The lawn is mowed less often than most and full of clover and dandelions. The trees surrounding the yard need pruning and a couple are partly dead. The giant old pear tree, crabapple tree and chokecherry bushes drop fruit on the ground that I never seem to get cleaned up completely. The flower and vegetable beds are a riot of old and new plants that seem to vie for successive dominance. In contrast, most other houses on the block have neat, trimmed, weed-free lawns, and carefully manicured shrubs and flower beds.
But each house in the neighborhood has one thing in common, though. Nearly every yard sports a birdfeeder or bird house of some kind. Hummer bottles, tube feeders for tiny seeds, platforms for bigger birds — each one attracts different species at different times of the year.
The neighborhood attracts a lot of different kinds of birds. In fact, John Marzluff has reported that suburban areas now support a greater number and diversity of bird life than wild areas. However, overall, North American bird populations have decreased over the last fifty years, raising concerns about pesticide use and habitat destruction.
Those of us that treasure our little (or not so little) feathered friends can go beyond just putting out some bird food. NestWatch’s Becca Rodomsky-Bish and Robyn Bailey suggest, “To start, we can design our homes and properties to be bird sanctuaries. By designing your property to help provide birds’ basic needs, you can enjoy more birds without leaving your home.” They cite three important concepts:
Food. “While feeders are great food resources for seed-eating songbirds, 96 percent of all nesting songbirds need insects to successfully raise their young. Superfoods, such as butterfly and moth larvae, can only be found on plants, particularly native plants.”
Water. “Water will attract many species of birds for drinking and bathing that wouldn’t otherwise visit a bird feeding area. Hawks, owls, warblers, and many other species may be drawn to the water feature, especially if it’s made available when open water is hard to come by, such as in arid habitats or freezing temperatures.”
Haapoja quoted Daniel Dix, “Water means life … It is as simple as that. So, adding water in your yard can really be an attraction, since small pools that support so much life are becoming more and more rare in the natural world … Bubbling, splashing water doubles it again. And ponds will also attract frogs, toads, salamanders and waterfowl.”
Shelter. “Birds need shelter to sleep, hide, escape the elements, and nest. The more diverse the shelter options, the more birds you’ll attract. There are three layers of multilevel habitat that birds use for shelter: lower layers (e.g., flowers or low-growing grasses); middle layers (e.g., shrubbery); and upper layer elements (e.g., trees, tall cacti).”
Haapoja reported on a study exploring the effect of development on birds. It concluded that, “… what depresses bird diversity is lack of variety in habitat types (such as grassland, savanna and forest) and habitat structure (the various heights of grass, trees and shrubs).” In addition, the report “encourages the use of structural components for wildlife habitat: nest boxes and platforms, dead trees, fallen trees and perches, brush piles and rock piles, salt, dusting beds, grit and bird feeders.”
Herbicides and pesticides can be horribly detrimental to birds, so extreme caution must be exercised in their use. I have found several non-chemical or natural methods to be reasonably effective.
Each home’s yard is a special place, unique to time and location and how we manage it. We can choose how we want it to be used, and by whom. I enjoy sharing our yard with nature to the maximum extent possible — flowers, veggies, berries, birds and some other critters.
I assume the responsibility for the habitat I have created and try to remember, ‘a duck may be somebody’s mother’. Take care of them.
Becca Rodomsky-Bish and Robyn Bailey, How to Make Your Property a Bird Sanctuary, September/October 2019, Grit
Margaret A. Haapoja, Landscaping for Birds, March/April 2008, Grit
John Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia, 2014
Nadja Popovich, How Climate Change May Affect the Plants in Your Yard, May 23, 2019, New York Times