The Secret Sauce

“I think we are still grappling with a narrow view of nature and wildness, that this is remote and faraway and we must travel to find nature in some distant place. What we need to appreciate and connect with is the nature all around us, the nature near to where we live and work and spend most of our time.”

                                                ~ Timothy Beatley

A flock of shadows silently crosses the yard, followed momentarily by the lonely cries of the ragged line of geese against the cold, Colorado blue sky. The bright sunshine belies the temperature — teens or lower, but the sharp color contrasts beckon me outside to better hear the sound.

The geese are pretty much residents here, but move around quite a bit throughout the year. They occupy the city parks, open spaces, athletic fields and the local ponds and creek. I enjoy seeing them and hearing their squabbling honks as they soar overhead around the town.

We have lots of wild critters in the neighborhood. Our small town is located on the edge of Metro Denver, abutting the foothills that rise sharply on the western edge of town and roll on into succeeding waves of mountains that ultimately reach the Continental Divide. Clear creek bursts out of the mountains and divides the town, providing a green belt and an obvious migration route from the hills down to the plains.

There are a lot of birds of course, attracted to the backyard feeders and various berry bushes. We’ve maintained a variety of vegetation for the birds, and this neighborhood is lined by a multitude of large, old trees. A few birds are ubiquitous — house finches, sparrows, chickadees, juncos, house wrens, several kinds of jays, flickers, ravens, magpies and the ever present Eurasian collared doves. Seasonally, we see several kinds of woodpeckers, hummingbirds, nuthatches, hawks, siskins and others.

Squirrels have set up housekeeping in most trees and a family of cottontails took up residence under our garden shed until our dog and two cats were too much for them; however, one still occasionally shows up to nibble on our lawn. Mice inhabit the compost pile and the dense vegetation beneath the bird feeders, serving as entertainment (and sometimes lunch) for our two cats. We’ve seen a couple of wood rats over the years.

Deer seem to like the urban vegetation, and one even brought her fawn to hide in the bushes across the street while she reconnoitered the neighborhood. An elk herd pours down from the hills on occasion to hang out on the city golf course and surrounding wild areas. On a couple of occasions, a teenage moose has come out of the hills, exploring the world on their own, just like a teenaged human trying out adulthood. Similarly, a black bear or two has meandered through town, checking out the trash cans and dumpsters before being run off by the dogs, police and traffic. Foxes and coyotes are rarely seen, though often heard. Raccoons are less shy and will occupy tree hollows and accessible, vacant spaces.

The birds, however, are present all the time regardless of the season or weather.

Exposure to nature and particularly, birds, has been shown to be extremely beneficial to human health. Reporter Nate Berg quotes Professor Timothy Beatley on the concept of biophilia, or how humans benefit from contact with the natural world, “Better integrating nature into cities is good for people, but our buildings and cities aren’t always built in a way that’s good for nature.” 

Berg continues, “Abundant bird life is the secret sauce for soul-nourishing cities. Birds matter tremendously, and their presence near to us in cities delivers delight and awe. It is hard to be lonely when birds are nearby. Our lives are richer, our days fuller, when we hear their magical voices of the fluttering energy and blur of color that birds provide. They make cities more interesting, infusing urban neighborhoods and spaces with a life force.”

“There are many things we can and must do to make our cities more bird-friendly … cities can be a positive force on behalf of birds, and for the conservation of biodiversity more generally. Cities can play a significant role and serve as an important counterbalance to the loss of habitat elsewhere. Every design and building project in the city should be seen as the chance to make room for other species of life, especially birds.”

“One important step is to change the landscaping around our homes. Changing out the biological desert of turfgrass lawns for native plants is a big positive step … Planting native plants and trees will ensure that birds have sufficient habitat and food to raise young. Reducing exterior lighting and minimizing use of herbicides and pesticides would also help. Incorporating sources of water will also be important, and these steps will help other wildlife of course as well as birds.”

“Habitats that will be good for birds will be good for humans as well.”

If you’re wondering how it’s going where you live, just step outside and listen.

Additional information:

Nate Berg, Why Cities Should Be Designed For Birds, 02/08/21, Fast Company

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