We all enjoy listening to bird song or watching a hummingbird in our back yards. But birds are not only decorative, some species pollinate flowers or help other plants to reproduce (imagine a world without squash, tomatoes, apples, peaches and strawberries!). Many birds provide pest control by eating aphids, Japanese beetles, European corn borers, and other unwanted garden visitors; and you don’t need a garden to appreciate the birds that eat mosquitoes! If you don’t like weeding (and who does?), you might consider attracting finches, crows, towhees, and blackbirds which eat weed seeds. Going out beyond the home garden, birds help spread seeds and keep disease in check in forests; and scavenging birds dispose of dead animal carcasses, helping to control diseases on that front.
But there’s more. If you plan next year’s garden in a way to attract birds, you’ll also likely be using native plants—and these tend to require less effort, as they are often drought-tolerant and disease resistant. Plus, the same plants will tend to attract bees, another valuable pollinator. Of course, next year’s yard and garden plans may seem far in the future. But you may settle in to research your plans, when the evenings get too dark and cold for outdoor activities.
There are other things to do as well, all of which fit well into our winter schedules. For instance, some of us are becoming more careful to keep bird feeders supplied. Apparently, Americans put out about 1 million tons of seed in a year. A January 2017 article in Living Bird magazine analyses the effects of feeders on bird populations. Luckily, there is good news: apparently the bird species that visit feeders regularly are thriving; for instance, those lovely red cardinals we see are expanding their population and increasing their range. The down sides (possible disease spread, predation, injuries from window strikes) are apparently relatively minor; and so by all means keep up your plans to feed our feathered friends this winter.
But more than 400 bird species are considered endangered; and those include many that rarely or never visit feeders. So what can we do there? Well, take out memberships in Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.birds.cornell.edu); and consider giving such memberships as holiday gifts; these sites contain treasure troves of bird-related information and activities, and both offer a regular newsletter. Audubon has adoption programs as well; an adopted Great Horned Owl, hummingbird, or even a Bald Eagle, could make an exciting gift for a child or teen, and would have the extra benefit of encouraging further learning for everyone involved. The Audubon site also features a link to legislative actions, so there is much to be done all in one place at www.Audubon.org.
Finally, we have all heard that outdoor cats kill birds at alarming rates—but not everyone realizes that these avian victims number in the billions every year. So consider keeping kitty mostly indoors, where her prey will likely be limited to small mice.
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