Did you know birds are in trouble in the US?
The Audubon Society says we are losing bird species rapidly because their habitat is disappearing. Think about development in your area. The first things developers do is clear the site.
That means all the native plants that support birds year-round. It’s especially tough on birds in the winter. The evergreen trees for shelter from cold weather are gone. The brush, like prickly agarito bushes and thorny smilax vines disappear as protective nesting sites for birds who don’t nest in trees. The plants that provide feed are wiped out. The insects that feed on those plants vanish.
Face it, folks! A few bird feeders of sunflower seeds are not an adequate replacement.
What if the hungry bird isn’t a seed eater? Birds may eat berries, nuts, seeds, nectar, caterpillars and other bugs. The situation is tough year-round, but particularly grim in winter when birds rely on undeveloped natural landscapes.
What can you do? Changing your landscape to use more native plants not only can help keep the great American diversity of birds around, it can be very low maintenance. That equals Elderyarding®!
Here are three ideas for Texas:
1. Start with the obvious - trees. What trees are in your yard? Some oaks produce acorns every year and others produce in alternate years, like pecans. Maybe you have room to supplement. Mexican buckeye and wafer ash are attractive small specimen trees that birds love. Two more trees that produce dry seeds that seem to be bird favorites are acacia family – mesquite and huisache. These seem to be fattier seeds that birds gobble in the fall to prepare for the bleak winter season.
While some people consider the hackberry to be a “weed” tree, don’t tell that to the cardinals in my yard. They scavenge every berry from branches, then move to gleaning more from the yard. Other good trees that produce berries are the Carolina buckthorn and the juniper. I’ve had a flock of cedar waxwings visit my cedar trees every January for about 20 years. They stay about a day, just long enough to strip every berry from the trees, then head on to their spring nesting grounds.
2. Evaluate your berry-producing and seed –producing shrubs, vines and grasses. While crape myrtles are nice, they’re not bird favorites. Start with buttonbush, lantana, or American beautyberry for fall feeding. Native honeysuckles or antique roses with those red hips in winter provide what birds crave. Try yaupon or possumhaw. Their berries are high in carbohydrates. The birds feasting on these wait till spring, when they may have exhausted their internal reserves and need strength to get their spring start.
Include native ornamental grasses and flowers, and let them go to seed. Once the fall sun has dropped too low to enjoy through the fluffy stems of little bluestem or bushy bluestem or Lindheimer muhly, look elsewhere in your yard for visual delight but leave the grasses standing. Just because you’ve finished looking doesn’t mean the birds have finished eating!
3. Can you be brave? Let the leaves from your trees and deciduous shrub gather in the flower beds and stay throughout the winter! I know it’s shocking to think of leaves in the beds instead of mulch. But those leaves hide insects beloved of birds in the cold weather. In the early evening in winter, you may see mockingbirds and jays scratching through those leaves in search of caterpillars and arthropods for dinner, just like chickens do.
How is all this Elderyarding®?
Stop yourself from doing too much cleanup in your yard, especially in the fall and winter. Deliberately neaten the edges of flowerbeds so your landscape looks visually cared for, but let the beds fend for themselves more during the cool season. Never prune off a berry that could feed a bird! If you have native plants in a prairie setting, like Mexican hat or plateau sunflower that are rich in seeds, wait until spring to mow these back, letting the seeds ripen and the birds eat their fill. It’s amazing to see big birds balanced on rickety flower stalks to nibble everything from a seedhead.
And, in Elderyarding® terms, you are being a steward of nature, both plants and animals, and embedding yourself deeply into the seasons. These activities have been found to be very nourishing to the spirit as we become more mature.
So ask yourself today, "What am I doing to ensure that all the bird species in my area can survive?"