Songbird population is declining because birds are losing the habitats they need to survive. This is a problem every gardener can help solve.
The article How to Create a Bird-Friendly Habitat in Your Backyard appeared first on Big Blog of Gardening.Songbird population is declining because birds are losing the habitats they need to survive. This is a problem every gardener can help solve.
The article How to Create a Bird-Friendly Habitat in Your Backyard appeared first on Big Blog of Gardening.Read MoreBig Blog of GardeningA Cardinal on a tree limb. Photo by Anna Parks.

By Guest Author Anna Parks

The birds we know and love are in trouble and need our help to survive. According to a recent study of 529 bird species conducted by an international team of scientists from seven research institutions, nearly 3 billion birds in the United States and Canada have vanished since 1970. That’s a loss of one-third of the birds in these two countries in just 50 years.

More than 90% are the birds we are used to seeing in our backyards. For example, we have lost nearly 25% of the Blue Jays, 50% of the Baltimore Orioles, 70% of the Red-winged Blackbirds, and 80% of the Song Sparrows.

These numbers are terrible, but we know from experience that we can bring back bird populations when we try. We’ve done it with waterfowl, raptors, and gamebirds in the last 50 years by using targeted conservation efforts and reducing and eliminating harmful pesticides.

Now, the songbirds need our help. The songbird population is declining because birds are losing the habitats they need to survive. This is a problem every gardener can help solve. Restoring native plants, providing food and access to fresh water sources, and creating nesting sites will create a bird-friendly habitat in your backyard and give birds a place to live, eat, rest, and nest.

How to Restore Native Plants

The exotic ornamental plants most nurseries sell nowadays are nice to look at, but they are creating a huge problem for the birds that rely on native plants for survival. Native plants, which are plants that occur naturally in a given region, provide cover and essential foods for many forms of wildlife, especially birds. Non-native plants, on the other hand, are introduced to a region and do not always provide the food and nesting sites that birds need.

A basic example of this can be seen in two popular landscape trees sold in North America. One of the main sources of food for many birds are caterpillars. The native oak supports as many as 500 species of caterpillars, whereas the non-native ginkgo supports only 5 species of caterpillars. Birds, such as chickadees that need about 6,000 caterpillars to feed a single brood of babies, can rely on the native oak for food far more than they can rely on the ginkgo.

Native plants are also beneficial to humans and the environment because they require less watering, fertilizer, and pesticides than non-native plants. If you’re interested in restoring native plants to your landscape, you can start by identifying the trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses in your yard. Determine what is native and non-native to your area (see resources below). Then, consider replacing invasive non-native plants (which tend to take over the landscape) with native plants that attract native insects, support pollinators, and provide seeds and nuts that birds can eat.

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The cooperative extension service in your state can help you identify native and non-native plants for your area. You can also find many resources online. For example, the National Wildlife Federation website offers a native plant finder, and the National Audubon Society offers an online native plant database (see below). Both can help you locate trees, shrubs, and flowers that benefit birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife.

How to Provide Food in Every Season For Birds

A Carolina Wren takes its turn at a bird feeder. Photo by Anna Parks.

Most birds rely on natural food supplies, such as insects, larvae, worms, spiders, plant material (flowers, leaves, seeds), nuts, and fruit. But there are more than 100 species of North American birds that supplement their meals with foods obtained from bird feeders. This is especially true in the winter when natural food is often scarce or during spring and fall migration when birds need extra energy. Some birds also rely on feeders during the summer to meet the demands of hungry nestlings.

You can provide bird food in every season by planting native trees, grasses, shrubs, and flowers that support insects and produce edible seeds, nectar, and fruit. Trees and shrubs that produce autumn and winter berries are also helpful for Mockingbirds, Robins, Catbirds, Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and other birds who eat fruit.

To attract and assist the greatest variety of birds, you can supplement native plants with bird feeders. Feeder stations can mimic the level where birds normally eat. Low platform bird feeders work well for ground birds like mourning doves and sparrows. Hopper and tube bird feeders work well for shrub birds like cardinals and finches. Suet feeders hung high off the ground work well for tree birds like nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and some warblers.

When filling feeders, black-oil sunflower seed is a good choice because it appeals to a wide range of birds. Thistle seed is popular with finches. Safflower seed appeals to cardinals, finches, mourning doves, and chickadees. Millet and cracked corn are well-liked by many ground-feeding birds. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and titmice love suet, fruit, and unsalted nuts.

How to Provide Fresh Water For Birds

A Robin near a pond. Photo by Anna Parks.

Providing a dependable supply of fresh, clean water is one of the biggest things you can do to help birds. Birds need water to drink and bathe (dirty feathers make flight difficult). You can provide this with garden ponds, fountains, and birdbaths.

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Pond areas should be shallow and have a gently sloping bank or well-placed rocks, branches, and other items that birds can use as perches or ladders to easily get in and out of the water. Fountains should have a lip or edge that birds can perch on.

Like ponds, birdbaths should also be shallow; one to three inches of water is more than enough, especially for small birds who can drown if the water is too deep. Water should also be changed and replenished every few days. The surface of the birdbath should also be cleaned regularly, particularly if green algae begin to form.

How to Create Nesting Sites

A Song Sparrow perches on a broken tree limb. Photo by Anna Parks.

In the 1970s, concerned birdwatchers and citizen scientists worked together to create a trail of nesting boxes for Eastern Bluebirds, which were on the verge of extinction after 90 percent of the population was lost due to a lack of nesting cavities. The Eastern Bluebird population is now considered stable because of their efforts.

The same can be done for other songbirds. Trees, shrubs, dense foliage, and tall grasses provide nesting sites where birds can raise their young. If you don’t have space for these options, or if you would like to help the cavity-nesting birds (like Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Purple Martins, etc.), you could install nest boxes in your backyard habitat.

Find out which birds are likely to nest in your area and what type of nest box they require. Then, research the best place to install a nest box and the best way to protect it from weather and potential predators.

Guest Author Bio: Anna Parks is an outdoor writer, photographer, gardener, and birder from Maryland. She is a member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Maryland Ornithological Society, New Jersey Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, and Nature Conservancy. She enjoys writing about birding, conservation, travel, gardening, and all things outdoors. You can read more about her on Anna Parks Outdoors.

Sources:1.) Science (Referenced study published in the “Science” journal from the American Association for theAdvancement of Science): 2.) Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Bring Birds Back)3.) Cornell Lab of Ornithology (News: 1 in 4 Birds Gone)4.) NY Audubon (Bird Habitat Necessities)5.) National Audubon Society (Why Native Plants Matter)6.) National Wildlife Federation (Native Plant Finder)7.) National Audubon Society (Native Plants Database)8.) National Audubon Society (Audubon Guide to Bird Feeding):9.) Fairfax County (Eastern Bluebird Conservation)10.) Cornell Lab of Ornithology (NestWatch)

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