Weekly Tips

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Tip of the Week: Notes from a backyard, Part 2

Tip of the Week: Notes from a backyard, Part 2

– Susan McIntosh, for Sustainable Orillia

Last week I wrote about the loss of local habitat which is leading to a decline in migratory bird species. So what can we do to make up for this habitat loss?

Each of us can make a big contribution to biodiversity by doing a few things with our own yards/properties.  If everyone did this, we could re-establish a network of habitat that can help replace some of what we’ve lost.  This network is essential for migratory species of birds and insects. 

Taking these actions can also encourage mindfulness and increased wisdom from what we observe, creating more opportunities for teaching empathy and awe of nature with others—particularly our children—thus helping biodiversity for future generations.

Here are a few tips for supporting birds that do not require a lot of effort:

  • avoid using chemicals  
  • a yard doesn’t need to be all or nothing when it comes to neatness.  Leaving fall leaves, weeds and naturally established shrubs etc around the perimeter can increase diversity while the main yard area could still be mowed for neatness
  • when it comes to lawns, perfection is sterile.  Biodiversity can be supported by allowing a variety of small plants that can still be mowed to fit with neatness. White clover and other small plants are just as appealing as grass but can support more creatures.   Birds forage for grubs, ground insects, worms etc.
  • not all birds prefer bird feeders. Feeders can also be hoarded by grackles. Throwing small seeds about under bushes or on railings can provide food for juncos, white crown sparrows, cardinals, doves and many more. I like to put a variety of different seeds about the yard. Ideally we’d have fields with wild plant seeds, but these are being eliminated with development.
  • feeders can still be needed through nesting season. Many people remove feeders at end of winter, but with fewer food sources available, feeder seeds can help many birds feed their babies. I’ve had many different birds bring their fledglings to feeders to feed them and to show them how to feed themselves.
  • robins love Sun Maid raisins and grapes.  These can be particularly welcome when they return while there’s still snow on ground or when it’s dry in summer and it’s more a challenge getting worms. I have a catbird that also comes for raisins tossed out onto my walk.
  • sprinklers can also bring some worms to surface for robins. This is greatly appreciated in the dry months of summer
  • the outer perimeter of lawns can be left to allow wild native plants to establish. These provide flowers and seeds for birds and insects. They also allow cover for small critters.
  • over time my yard perimeter has had the qualities of a forest bottom with a gathering of my dead Christmas tree, a small twig/wood pile, and leaves to provide cover and food sources from the decay of the material.
  • water sources are as important as food. I keep a couple of terra cotta dishes (the type use under planters) and fill them with clean water and keep at ground level along with a separate bird bath and hanging water dish
  • a number of birds like kibble for cats. Crows, blue jays, starlings and grackles have all indulged.  I place them in a little pile on ground.
  • I mow around a few milkweed plants and clumps of flowers or wild strawberries for plant variation while still keeping an overall neat appearance.
  • many plants from box stores have been chemically treated or are sterile cultivars, so if planting for wildlife, try to get native and non-treated plants or grow from seed.
  • many migratory birds fly through around the same time each year.  For 3 years in a row I had a rose-breasted grosbeak arrive in my yard within a day of the previous two years. They appreciate seed feeders.
  • Orioles and hummingbirds arrive around the same time each year…so hummingbird feeders and oriole feeders or half oranges are appreciated
  • the same birds will often return. I’ve had a grackle that has the same quirky way it would take a peanut as it had the previous year.  My catbird visitor interacts exactly as it did last year.
  • consider planting fruiting trees and shrubs as well as nut-bearing trees like white oaks.  Many of these have declined in favour of planting tidier trees that can’t support diversity.
  • many Facebook groups focus on healthy places for birds. Whether organic gardening, native plants, insect groups, bird groups, Orillia bee city, etc. can offer many different perspectives. You can learn much from them. Bird groups often have fun stories about bird antics that can help you look out for similar entertainment from your birds.
  • there is a movement called ‘We are the Ark’ that started in Great Britain.  You can view their Facebook group as well as visit their website to learn more about the philosophy that nature knows best and about taking a greater hands-off approach–“A focus on acts of restorative kindness to the earth.”  www.wearetheark.com 

In summary . . . we are part of an interconnected system when it comes to biodiversity and migratory species.  We can all do our part to help reinstate a thriving network of natural spaces to better our planet for birds and wildlife, for us and for future generations.  Don’t underestimate the actions you can take in your own back yard.  You can make a difference.

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