Creating a Bird-Friendly Yard
New research shows that small habitats can add up to a big difference.
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."