March 17, 2011

Gardening for Birds

As the grass or some semblance of muddy straw reappears from under winter’s dump people across New England pull out baskets of trowels, coils of hose, and bags of soil and fertilizer. Whether some vestigial agricultural gene, modern keeping up with the Jones, or love of getting hands in the soil gardening and landscaping has become the nation’s leading pastime and a massive industry. The standard garden has become a combination of window height shrubs around the house, flowing green lawn rolling down to wood’s edge, interspersed with islands of perennials and flowering trees. These large lawns and landscaped backyards have no doubt increased breeding habitat for certain species of birds. However, an open lawn is devoid of important tangles for ground feeding birds to hide in, food for native birds to eat, and worst yet encourages the over use of fertilizer and pesticides. The use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides is a major threat to American song birds. Pesticides move up the food chain in any environment accumulating in large predators like falcons, eagles, foxes, and dolphins. But even small, insect-eating song birds like warblers, bluebirds, swallows, and thrush are adversely affected by garden pesticides. A healthy yard for birds should minimize the use of insecticides and pesticides and gardeners with an interest in birds should move to non-toxic alternatives. Fertilizers too have adverse affects on birds and native wildlife specifically by entering the water table and making their way into streams, rivers, ponds and lakes causing algae blooms, fish kills, and creating environments for invasive species. Creating a healthy backyard for birds should include an area that is “wild” uncut and scrubby, promote seed bearing trees and shrubs, fruit trees, and especially the elimination of all pesticides and fertilizers.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact:

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