Creating a Bird-Friendly Yard

Creating a Bird-Friendly Yard

New research shows that small habitats can add up to a big difference.

By Rene Ebersole
Published: July-August 2013

She says that the program is being promoted to Audubon chapters around the country, and the schools, neighborhood groups, and municipalities receiving mini-grants to create "Urban Oases" demonstration habitats will be asked to track their sites with YardMap.

The second program, called Hummingbirds at Home [[Make link to: www.hummingbirdsathome.org]], joins Audubon's citizen science programs, such as the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count, by enlisting people to log observations of hummingbirds on flowers and note blooming patterns. Several recent studies indicate that the arrival of hummingbirds on their foraging grounds is out of sync with food availability and flower pollination. "The Hummingbirds at Home program aims to gain insights into what's going on, and how people can help," says Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham.

There is plenty of evidence to show that anyone can play a vital role in preserving bird habitats, says Tallamy, who even goes as far as to call it a moral imperative. "Our success is up to each one of us individually," he writes in Bringing Nature Home. "We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered--and the ecological stakes have never been so high."

 

Shovel Ready: Transforming Your Yard

1. Get started by signing Audubon's Healthy Yard Pledge to promote bird-friendly communities. It aims to remove invasive exotic plants; plant native species; reduce pesticide use; conserve water; protect water quality; and support birds and other wildlife. Visit audm.ag/HYPledge.

2. Begin small and have a plan. "Someone always comes up [after a talk] and says, 'I'm going to run home and rip out all my lawn, ' " says Doug Tallamy, author of the renowned gardening book Bringing Nature Home. "That is not my recommendation. If you take something out, be ready to replace it." He suggests an easier pace. "This can be a hobby. You don't have to do it all at once." Or, for instant results, hire someone to do the work. If you already pay to have your lawn cut and cared for, you might consider putting at least part of that budget toward managing your yard in a way that's more beneficial to birds.

3. Convert the salespeople at your nursery. If you go to one with the name of a native plant that you want to buy, they will likely take you to the closest thing in stock. "What you say to them is, 'That's not what I want. Can you get this for me?' And if they can't, you walk away," says Tallamy. "If they hear that enough they'll start carrying this stuff." (Find resources that can help you locate plants native to your region at audubonmagazine.org.)

4. Try to avoid cultivars of the native plants you're buying. When the horticultural industry tweaks a plant's features (for instance, its color or petal size and shape), the plants may become less desirable or even incompatible with the insects that evolved to eat them.

5. Shun the misconception that gardens brimming with native plants look weedy. "If you go to the fine gardens of Europe, many of the plants they display are from North America," says Tallamy. "So this notion that just because a plant grows down the street, it can't be used formally is just an urban legend."  For some domestic inspiration, Tallamy points to a new 3.5-acre native plant exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden that is both beautiful and beneficial for wildlife in one of the world's most crowded cities.

6. There's power in numbers. Enlist your neighbors and wider community to help incorporate bird-friendly plantings in yards, parks, workplaces, schoolyards, and other public areas. Join a growing army of citizen scientists collecting data about how birds can coexist with us and become part of Audubon's Hummingbirds at Home program. Visit audubon.org/citizenscience, where you can also download the mobile app.

7. This winter participate in the Christmas Bird Count (birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count) and the Great Backyard Bird Count, two ongoing citizen science programs that help track long-term bird population trends.

8. Register your plot of habitat at YardMap and document its value to birds as you make improvements.

9. Hang out at home. Half the nation's lawn equals about 20 million acres--roughly the collective size of 15 national parks, including Denali, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, and The Badlands. "We have to get rid of the notion that nature is something you must drive to," Tallamy insists. "That's why people go to national parks, to connect with nature. You can do that right at home--every time we look out the window or go outside."     

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Comments

I have gained some useful

I have gained some useful information from this site. Thanks for sharing this information. Healthy bird communities are inextricably linked to healthy insect populations. Ninety-six percent of terrestrial North American birds raise their young on insects.

I like to mention that many

I like to mention that many native plants edible by birds (directly or indirectly) are edible by people too, and (once the plants get established in your yard) there is typically plenty of fruit for all, human and non-human alike. Take Juneberry (aka Shadbush, Serviceberry, or Amalanchier to botanists) - the fruit (which ripens in June, hence the common name) tastes like a cross between cherries and almonds (they are all related). The typical Juneberry tree gets to be 12 feet tall and fruits prolifically, so people can often pick as much fruit as they like from the lower branches, leaving the fruit on the upper branches for the birds.

Great article. So glad to

Great article. So glad to see another one promoting this issue. Of course, Doug Tallamy. We have had him speak here twice. His words are golden.
We have been promoting folks having a bird-friendly habitat/yard for about 4 years by offering an award to do so. All of our consults and award offerings are free. We are paired with the local native plant society and have now made inways to schools to educate the young folks on the necessity of bird friendly habitats.
Also, North Carolina Audubon has formed a committee addressing all the issues associated with getting a bird friendly habitat. State recommended non native plant lists, invasive plant sales, etc.
Charley Winterbauer, President, Cape Fear Audubon Society

People can Nibble on Natives Too

Hi - This was a great article. I especially enjoyed the version appearing in print, as it included many photos of native plant species and the insects (and, in turn the birds) utilizing them for food.

While it is likely that many Audubon Magazine readers would be sufficiently motivated to plant native plants for their benefits to birds, other folks might need additional convincing. That is one reason why I like to mention that many native plants edible by birds (directly or indirectly) are edible by people too, and (once the plants get established in your yard) there is typically plenty of fruit for all, human and non-human alike. Take Juneberry (aka Shadbush, Serviceberry, or Amalanchier to botanists) - the fruit (which ripens in June, hence the common name) tastes like a cross between cherries and almonds (they are all related). The typical Juneberry tree gets to be 12 feet tall and fruits prolifically, so people can often pick as much fruit as they like from the lower branches, leaving the fruit on the upper branches for the birds.

Here's a link to a blog posting on this subject (edible plants native to New England) - http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/grow-your-own-edible-native-plants-...

Here's a link to a spreadsheet I prepared on the Edible Native Plants of New England - http://www.ecolandscaping.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Edible-Native-P...

My point is that the "you can it it too" factor might help in many cases to induce people to plant natives who aren't sufficiently convinced by the purely ecological argument.

insect food

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/05/22/2009/gardening-with-native-pl...

What a great story, and a great project Audubon. I was very happy to see Tallamy's work featured in the magazine, but I think I didn't see this explanation of exactly how natives are better for insects. Not many insects have lived with non-native species of plants to have developed the anti-bodies to the toxins that all plants put out so they won't get eaten. If one doesn't have a whole article to try to persuade gardeners of the importance of (locally) native plants, this explanation seems to demystify the natives-are-good habitat proscription that is missing from so many discussions about the reason we need natives.

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/05/22/2009/gardening-with-native-pl...

cultivars

Just want to comment on cultivars. Cultivated varieties are not necessarily hybrids that have been tweaked. Many of them, in the native plant industry particularly, are merely selections of plants from the wild that have desirable ornamental characteristics. There is no reason to shun these plants.

Otherwise, great article, I really enjoyed it!

Except when those "desirable

Except when those "desirable ornamental characteristics" have eliminated one or more critical ecological functions of the plant. Great example in the STL area is Annabelle's Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens 'annabelle'), a very popular ornamental shrub. The flowers are sterile. The average homeowner doesn't appreciate that.

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