birds, backyard, yard & garden
Illustration: Courtesy Audubon Society/ Audubon at Home
Create a wildlife friendly yard with birdhouses, feeders, native plants, water, and a butterfly garden. Don’t forget to collision-proof your windows and keep domestic cats indoors to protect native birds.
Who doesn't enjoy the sight of a brightly colored bird, or a passing butterfly? These natural visitors add appeal to our landscapes, help control pests, and seed and pollinate our gardens. But we're in danger of losing them through our own actions. According to the National Audubon Society, the 20 birds on the Common Birds in Decline list have lost at least half of their populations in just four decades due to residential and industrial development.

It's not too late to coax fine flying friends into our yards, though. This summer—with skyrocketing fuel prices putting the squeeze on your vacation plans—instead of going to visit nature, why not bring nature to you? Encourage birds and butterflies to come to your place and stay awhile with these easy habitat gardening tips. And, don't forget to keep your birdhouses and feeders out in the cold season, when native and migrating birds need your help most.

Reduce Your Lawn
According to the National Wildlife Federation, about 20 million U.S. acres are planted as residential lawn. That's not good news for the environment. All that lawn eats up 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides annually, contaminating wildlife food sources. "Trace pesticides in insects, including caterpillars and butterflies, can harm the birds that depend on those populations for nourishment," says Steven Saffier, the coordinator of the Audubon Society's Audubon at Home program. Lawns are also water wasters. According to The Handbook of Water Use and Conservation, roughly 2 trillion gallons of water are used on lawns annually. Half of that is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or run-off caused by overwatering. Finally, lawnspace provides none of the cover, fruiting and seeding plants, or nesting sites that birds and other wildlife require.

A wild-life friendly habitat garden replaces manicured lawn with plants that attract native and migratory birds, butterflies, and other wildlife seeking food and cover. Habitat gardening essentially replicates pre-development land conditions. "You have to ask yourself, 'What is my ecological address? What plants were here before this house was built?' Then try to replicate that," advises Saffier. You can learn about your property's natural history by visiting a local nature center or contacting your local native plant society. Ask for specific forest type or dominant habitats to mimic in your backyard. "If someone learns that, historically, their house sits on what once was maple-beech-hickory forest type, they wouldn't want a sabal palm or magnolia because those have native ranges far outside an MBH forest," explains Saffier.

You should also eliminate the use of wildlife-harming chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and employ organic gardening solutions instead. "The idea is to encourage biodiversity. Birds eat insects, and insects eat plants," explains Saffier. "So, habitat gardeners are just going to have to expect some imperfection in their gardens." In return for that imperfection, you'll not only enjoy the birds and butterflies; you'll also save the time, money, and water it takes to keep that part of the lawn pristine.

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