WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Now more than ever, we need to provide welcoming habitats for birds. According to the National Audubon Society, 20 of our most common bird species have declined by an average of 68 percent since 1967. Some species, like the Evening Grosbeak, have declined by as much as 91 percent. You can do a great deal in your own landscape to help birds, but first, you have to evaluate what you have.
As you assess your landscape, determine if you have “The Big 4,” those critical resources that birds cannot do without, including:
- Nesting Sites
For nesting and cover, different bird species have different requirements, so plant diversity in your landscape will attract a broader diversity of birds. Raptors, including hawks, like to be at the top of tall canopy trees. Owls, tanagers, and nuthatches gravitate to the interior of tall canopy trees. Don’t have room to plant a large tree? “Borrow” large trees from neighboring properties, and encourage those neighbors not to cut down large, healthy trees.
Other bird species utilize mid-story and understory trees – mockingbirds, cardinals, chickadees, wrens, vireos and doves all fall into this category. Some birds are shrub-nesters, like Eastern Towhees, which seek out brush piles and thickets.
When planting, don’t forget to include regionally native evergreen trees and shrubs like White Pine and American Holly. These plants can provide important cover in winter, in severe weather conditions year-round, and also offer places for birds to hide from predators.
Many of our most threatened bird species have very specific needs, such as the Short-Eared Owl, which is an obligate grassland species, requiring a large grassland to survive. 358 million acres of the U.S. are covered in grassland with 85 percent being privately owned. These grasslands serve as important habitat for 29 breeding obligate grassland bird species. Although most of us don’t have large grasslands, we can support local organizations that seek to preserve them.
The key to providing natural habitat for birds is to emulate healthy natural areas around you. Use nature as your reference when designing habitat and selecting plants. If you live in the Northeast, where layered forests prevail, then plant that way and use regionally native plants that are found in that type of ecosystem.
To have a successful landscape for birds, it is helpful to first know which birds inhabit your area, and accordingly, what they need. Common suburban dwellers include Cardinals, Catbirds, and Mockingbirds, but there are many other less commonly seen birds, like Cedar Waxwings, Tufted Titmice, Juncos, and Nuthatches.
To help you identify birds and their habitat and food requirements, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and the National Audubon Society website. And, consider joining your local Audubon Society chapter.
Kim Eierman, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial! www.ecobeneficial.com When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.