Saving Our Feathered Friends

A recent study in published in the journal Science revealed there are 2.9 billion (that’s billion – with a b) fewer adult breeding birds in North America than there were in 1970. That is a loss of more than  1 out of every 4.

The study reveals it’s more than rare and exotic birds that are disappearing. There is a huge loss of birds we commonly would see in yards and at bird feeders like sparrows, blackbirds and finches.  The greatest decline was in birds that migrate through eastern United States.

 The total level of loss was shocking even to ornithologists who have been studying the bird loss for decades. There is fear that more bird species will follow the path of the Passenger Pigeon – which became extinct before anyone really understood what was happening.

On a positive note, populations of water fowl (ducks, geese) and raptors (like the bald eagle) have actually increased, mainly because of concentrated wetland conservation efforts and the ban of DDT in 1972. The data proves that bird populations can and will recover if we muster the personal and political will to act.

What can we as individuals do? Here are some recommendations from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Protect birds from window strikes. Its estimated about a billion birds are killed by window strikes each year. Prevent bird strikes in your home and encourage your workplace to do the same. Here are some affordable products Cornell recommends to prevent window strikes.

Keep cats indoors. Outdoor cats are the leading cause of bird loss after habitat loss. Its estimated cats kill about 2.6 billion wild birds per year. Cats will instinctively hunt and kill birds even if they are well fed.

Replace lawn with native plantings. Currently there are over 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. Lawns do not provide shelter or food for migrating birds while native plantings provide berries, seeds, insects and nesting areas.

Avoid pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids which are toxic to birds and can interfere with their ability to gain healthy weight and migrate on time.

Drink “bird friendly” coffee. Most coffee is grown in the sun, requiring clear cutting of forests which destroys bird habitat. If possible, purchase shade grown coffee which preserves migrating bird habitat.

Reduce single use plastic. Plastic presents a hazard to all wildlife including birds. They can become entangled and also ingest plastic, mistaking it for food.

Become a citizen scientist. Tracking bird populations across the continent is a daunting task and scientists need help. There are many different projects to choose from. You can check out the options here.

One final note – experts generally agree that feeding birds through the winter can be helpful, especially in our degraded urban and suburban habitats. It is important to keep feeders clean and provide food tailored to the birds expected to visit. Here is an overview winter bird feeding from Cornell.

Birds also need fresh water which can be challenging to find in freezing weather. Here are some tips for providing water from Cornell.

Want more information? Here are some links:

Master Gardener Pollinator Display Garden

Learn about pollinators at the display garden in Smedley Park.

Article by Louise Sheehan and Heather Gray

One community educational endeavor in which Delaware County Master Gardeners are engaged is the creation and maintenance of various display gardens.

One such garden is the Pollinator Garden. Located on the Penn State extension grounds at Smedley Park, it was founded in 2002 and is replete with mostly native plants that sustain butterfly, bee, and bird pollinators. The purpose of the garden is to inform the public about native plants that attract pollinators.

These pollinators are essential in moving pollen from one plant to another in an effort to produce more plants.  Selecting native plants sustains the natural wildlife and beauty that is unique to our region.

Some plants in the garden are penstemon, bronze fennel, monarda, echinacea,and lobelia cardinalis. This variety of native plants has attracted a delightful diversity of butterflies, including monarchs, pearl crescents, silver spotted skippers, black swallowtails, to name a few.

Insects and animals are essential for pollination. The seeds produced through pollination are the basis of our ecosystems. These plants stabilize the soil and purify the air. Pollinators are also responsible for much of our nutrition; without them, we would not have an ample supply of fruits and vegetables.

Tending the garden begins in early spring with a general clean-up and deciding what additional plants should be purchased or replaced.  Each week throughout the summer, the Pollinator Garden Committee members, maintain the garden by weeding, watering, replanting, pruning, etc.

In 2013 the garden received the Community Greening award from the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society. It also earned a Penn State Pollinator Friendly Garden Certificate.

The public is invited to visit the garden to view the flowers and pollinators and to learn which plants to choose for their own gardens or to just sit and enjoy the beauty and richness of the garden. To aid gardeners in selecting plants, a brochure entitled How to Grow Your Own Pollinator Garden was designed and created by some of the committee members and is available at the garden. It provides the public with key information on the plants in the garden.