Can Your Yard Save Lives?
Migratory American Goldfinch de-seeding
One of the reasons I have invested as much time and money in my yard is purely selfish: it lowers my blood pressure. After a trying day at work, I can eat dinner outside on the patio--surrounded by trees, blooms and calling birds--and feel the weight lift off. My respiratory and pulse rates both slow down. The impact is so obvious I don't actually need the research to know what being outdoors does for me.
But I'm lucky: I have control over that outdoor environment. I didn't like the grass--so I
, planted it over and established beds of shrubs and perennials to complement the existing trees. And I added new trees to add diversity. I can do that. I have the power! (Or at least the friends with nurseries...!)
Live Oak trees in Florida
A bunch of my friends don't have this power, however. They are the ones who sing to me morning and evening. And in my adult, home-owning life, I've tried to improve my skills at looking out for them.
All songbirds need the obvious. Food, water, shelter. But what form do these needs take to best serve the population? The truth is that bird feeders, while gratifying to watch, provide for only a fraction of songbird species--and provide for only the adults of those species. And bird houses and roosting boxes are helpful for only a few. If you really want to help, you've got to pull out the big guns.
Migratory Ruby-throated hummingbird slurping
Canopy Trees. Understory Trees. Shrubs. Vines. Nectar Plants. Birds, and especially migratory birds, need them all. They need them to hide from predators and storms. They need them to provide fruits and nectar. And they need them to provide homes for the insects that are the vast majority of what these birds consume. And these birds are not finding everything that they need to survive. "It is estimated that half of all migrants heading south for the winter won't return to breed in spring." (2)
I'll leave you to ponder the awfulness of that for a moment.
Rule Number One.
Numero Uno! Stop using pesticides. If you poison the bugs they aren't feeding birds. If the birds aren't getting fat, they won't survive migration. They need insects to get fat. Kill the bugs, kill the birds. On the flip side, make lots of birds happy in your yard--the bugs won't be nearly as prevalent as you think they will. Heh. I refer you to the sound effects in this
with blooms and fruit
Rule Number Two.
Create layers of habitat. Habitat that doesn't stop three feet off the ground. The list from paragraph three [Here! I'll repeat it for you! Canopy, Understory, Shrubs, Vines, Nectar Plants] needs to rebuild itself in your yard. For any region of the country there are specific varieties of plants within each category that do the most good. The pages of this blog and the sources below can give you comprehensive information on what to use where. But for a short list of top dogs, (all natives, please!) here goes:
Canopy: Oaks, Magnolias, Sycamores and Pines.
Understory: Dogwoods, Hollies, Mesquite, Hackberry.
Shrubs: Elderberry, Chokeberry, Beautyberry, Viburnums, Hollies, Willows
Vines: Grape, Virginia Creeper, Coral Honeysuckle (above),* Trumpet Creeper*
Nectar Plants: Coral Bells (Heuchera), Jewelweed (Impatiens), Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia), Salmonberry (Rubus), Autumn Sage (Salvia), Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon), Flowering Currant (Ribes)
*also a nectar plant
Rule Number Three.
Share. Your yard may be the only spot for blocks--or miles--that an exhausted songbird can find with all of the support that it needs. And you are not alone, there are others like you--but think how much good could be done if you convince just one friend to stop using pesticides and add a couple of plants that birds need, instead.
Get righteous, people. Evangelize. (And share what you're up to in the comments!)
(I recommend the book!)