Urgency and Response (1)
In his book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, Douglas W. Tallamy makes the case in the first chapter that we should all be looking at our yards as conservation property. There is no new land. One of the appalling statistics he supplies is that tropical migrants have seen their populations drop by 50% since 1966. The primary reason for this is loss of habitat.
Suburban grass is not habitat. Especially grass treated with pesticides. No bugs, no buffet. Even without pesticides, grass cut to a 3" height is of limited value.
One of my favorite birds is the Eastern Rufous-Sided Towhee. The male is a dapper fellow, wearing a black hooded jacket, rusty vest peeking out from under his wings, and a starched white belly. The female is more demure in gray. The towhee is a ground-browsing bird that is typically found in meadows and scrubby areas. A great place to find them in Western North Carolina (WNC) is just off the parkway at a spot called Graveyard Fields.
The towhees that visit our backyard spend a lot of time kicking around in the mulched beds. They hardly ever spend time on the grass, unless its to hop over to another shrubby bed. They will sometimes eat some seed from feeders--particularly from underneath--and it is great fun to watch them kick both feed forward simultaneously and then immediately backward, dragging the mulch or leaves away from the soil to look for insects.
While they will show up in our yard, they won't stay. After only 18 months, our shrubs are too small and the areas still too open to provide good cover. And with less than a quarter of an acre of land, its unlikely that we'll ever be able to provide exactly what they need to set up housekeeping. Still, we give them a place where they can reliably hunt down a meal and a drink to go with it. So I'll continue to look for ways to ditch my grass.
[pictured above left--native switchgrass, panicum virgatum.
This grass provides food and shelter to ground-dwelling birds. Above right--a towhee at Graveyard Fields.]