Our gardens are home to a diverse array of wild birds and animals who struggle daily to find food, water, shelter and places to raise their young. Here are 7 things you can do to make your habitat more welcoming to your wild neighbors.
1. Grow native plants.
Creating native plant habitat is one of the most important things we can do to help wild creatures. Mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians all rely on insects for food. Birds can’t live on seeds and berries alone; they need insect protein. Baby songbirds eat nothing but insects. And what do insects need? Native plants! Ninety percent of herbivorous insects—the kind birds eat—can only eat native plants. Yet nearly 80% of the plants growing in suburban areas are non-native. So you can see why the choices we make in our gardens are so critical. Ditch your lawn and your exotic plants and choose natives. By growing native plants around our homes, not only do we get to enjoy the beauty of wild creatures, we protect the web of biodiversity that enables all species, including our own, to survive. Find out which native plants grow in your region.
2. Make your windows bird-safe.
Have you ever heard the sickening thud of a bird flying full speed into a window? Collisions with windows kill millions of birds each year. Birds can’t see glass; they cannot tell the difference between a window and the habitat around it. All they see is reflected sky or trees. Even small windows can be dangerous for birds who are used to flying through leafy trees.
If you have windows in which sky or shrubbery is reflected, it’s not difficult to make them less deadly for birds. Cover the outside of your windows with netting or screens, put BirdTape or Window Alert decals on the outside of the glass, or try one of these other products.
3. Go chemical-free.
It breaks my heart that even my lovely local nursery has a shelf full of rodent poisons, insecticides and herbicides, many of them touted as “organic.”
The truth is, there is no such thing as a “safe” garden chemical; even insecticidal soap kills butterfly caterpillars, bees and other pollinators. Dyed mulch contains harmful chemicals that can soak into the soil. And tunneling mammals like moles are vital to the ecosystem, spreading nutrients underground and oxygenating the soil.
Let your garden find its own balance; if a plant is being attacked by aphids, the plant sends out chemical distress signals to attract insect predators, which in turn attract insect-eating birds. If you grow native plants that are adapted to your area, you’ll have fewer pests and disease and no need of any chemicals. In short, pesticides, rodenticides and insecticides are far more harmful to the environment and our health than any of the creatures they are designed to eradicate.
4. Put a bib on your cat.
Let’s face it, our feline friends love to hunt, and birds often wind up as their prey. No one is sure how many birds cats catch each year, but I think even a single bird is too many. Keeping cats indoors is the best way to ensure they don’t kill birds (and indoor cats live longer, healthier lives). But if you must let your cat roam, you can still keep birds safe by using an innovative product invented by a cat and bird lover: the CatBib. Both my cats wore CatBibs and neither was able to catch a single bird, yet they could still run, climb and play. Protect birds’ lives by putting a CatBib on your outdoor cat. Read “How Cats and Birds Can Peacefully Coexist,” and buy the CatBib.
5. Say no to leaf blowers!
If you think leaf blower noise is annoying, just imagine how birds feel. Leaf blowers disturb nesting birds and kill vulnerable fledglings on the ground. The superheated, 180mph wind from a leaf blower damages plants, dehydrates the soil and destroys beneficial insects. If you must use a leaf blower, get an electric model and use it only on hardscape—sidewalks, driveways and streets. Never point a leaf blower at soil or living plants. Protect your garden’s delicate ecology by using a rake or broom instead. Read: How Leaf Blowers Harm Birds.
6. Darken the skies.
Over-illumination of the night sky disorients migrating birds who need darkness so they can navigate by the stars. Birds who become confused by light pollution often lose their way and collide with buildings or each other. Remove unnecessary lights indoors and out. Outdoor lights should cast light downward instead of upward toward the sky. Learn more about how to minimize light pollution around your home at the Dark Sky Association.
7. Provide a source of water.
In many urban and suburban neighborhoods, birdbaths, fountains and manmade ponds are the only source of water for birds and wildlife.
Birds are more likely to nest in areas that have a reliable source of water. By providing water—especially moving water—you can attract beautiful songbirds to your garden and help wild birds and other animals thrive.
Always wash out birdbaths weekly and make sure the water is fresh and clean to protect birds from spreading disease.