Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Citizen's Guide: Guidelines for Backyard Habitat Conservation Projects [I'd Love to Save the World]

These first guidelines for protecting habitat are geared towards backyards. They may be the most direct action we can take: within reason, we can choose how to maintain our property. The guidelines presented here are straight-forward and effective ways to improve your backyard for the birds. My comments follow.

The Citizen's Guide to Migratory Bird Conservation
Guidelines for Protecting Migratory Bird Habitat:
Guidelines for Backyard Habitats

1. Grow native plants that provide fruit or seeds.

2. Woodlots with fallen limbs and leaves, dead plant material, and other woodland debris harbor the insects that migratory birds thrive on. Leave as much dead plant material as possible on the land (without endangering your home, of course).

3. Seek alternatives to chemical pesticides. Use biological controls for unwanted insects and vegetation.

4. Reduce the risk of bird predation by keeping pet cats indoors. Refrain from putting out table scraps, which will attract predators such as raccoons.

5. Invite neighboring landowners to join your backyard effort. Plan cooperatively!

Peter Dunne, Richard Kane, and Paul Kerlinger, New Jersey Audubon Society,
P.O. Box 693, Bernardsville, NJ 07294

This section has been excerpted in its entirety. Author information and article text current as of 1995.

Dunne, P., R. Kane, and P. Kerlinger. 1995. Citizen's Guide to Migratory Bird Conservation, Bonney, R., S. Carlson, and M. Fischer, eds. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

My comments: the first four guidelines are fairly well known these days, and they do two things essential for migrating birds: provide a safe place to forage for safe foods, steps that are pretty easy to implement. In fact, we've been improving our 4-acre lot ever since we bought it in 2002, adding berry-producing shrubs like spicebush, winterberry, and serviceberry and seed-producing flowers Purple Coneflower, Labrador Violet, and Helianthus. And it's working, we see sparrows foraging in the flower beds and songbirds in the branches of the shrubs. We don't use pesticides. If weeds are removed, it's by hand. Insects, with the exception of Japanese Beetles, are welcome to forage. We do periodically put out hormone traps, and we hand-pick them when they're out of control (fun activity for kids!).

Our two cats are entirely indoor cats, except that one time a visitor let Tazzie out because "he looked like he wanted to go out." Every once in a while we get a black-and-white visitor who camps out by the pond, and I never have figured out where it comes from. I've also never succeeded in catching the thing (and I'm not sure what I'd do if I did). To date, as far as I can tell, it's been focused on insects in the tall grass.

Anyway, it's the fifth guideline that I find fascinating. Though we do have neighbors, none are really close by. Our hill is pretty well forested and I'm not entirely sure that persuading our neighbors to landscape differently, if needed, is the best use of my time, there's probably only so much of me they can stand (more on that in a future post).

But I did talk with two landowners who had undertaken a cooperative effort. It was all relatively new at the time so I can't comment on how successful their project was. Maybe, eventually, their small island in Suburbia will become an oasis to passing migrants. But I was really impressed with their cooperative spirit. Isn't the stereotype that neighbors argue and bicker over . . . I don't know, borrowed tools? Length of the grass? Dog poop in the yard?

Not these guys, they were working together. Well, not really together, but using compatible methods to reach a common goal. Though there was no clear division between their yards, you could see the different approaches. One was more controlled and focused on shrubs and trees, the other more flowery and wild looking. Two unique approaches, each allowing their individual personalities to shine through, and both focused on birds and wildlife.

What do you think, would you try a multifamily effort in landscaping? Would it work in your area? As always, your thoughts and suggestions welcome and encouraged.


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