By Natural Resources Commissioners Lee Haggas and Mrs. Carol Haggas
Of all the statistics on the effects of climate change, here’s one that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves: in the past 50 years, the population of birds migrating across the Great Plains on their way to Mexico declined by 70%, and of the 144 species that make this miraculous trek, almost 1/4 are at risk of extinction.
You can help support and encourage migratory bird populations with some simple elements to attract birds to your garden and help the breeding success of threatened species. In addition to the obvious need for food and water, birds also need places where they can safely build nests and find shelter from weather and predators. So how does a bird go about finding such a haven? As they fly overhead, birds are on the lookout for areas of vegetative texture. To a birds-eye view, rich, diverse landscapes signal abundant sources of food and protection.
To create the kinds of places birds will naturally flock to:
- Reduce the amount of lawn area. Birds know open places won’t provide sufficient resources.
- Replace grass with native plants, especially varieties that will produce seeds and attract insects, both important food sources, and nesting materials.
- Think in layers. Some birds prefer to forage on the ground, while others find food in taller grasses. Not all birds build their nests in trees, some use mid-level shrubs as roosting sites.
- Embrace diversity. Just as humans couldn’t (shouldn’t) survive on a diet of pizza and ice cream, birds need a variety of seeds and insects for optimum health, and thrive in habitats that provide food sources in all seasons.
- Water is essential, whether it’s a simple birdbath, elaborate water garden, or even just a low spot on the property that retains rainwater.
- Eliminate the use of insecticides and herbicides that kill off beneficial plants and insect life.
- Minimize seasonal clean-up chores to leave behind leaf and brush piles that are important habitats for insects and sources of shelter and nesting materials for birds.
- Prune when trees and shrubs are dormant to avoid disturbing active nesting sites.