For the Birds: Number 1 bird killer is habitat loss

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Wilson's Warblers are vanishing
Photo by Elaine Chuang

By Christine Southwick

Your gas tank light just turned on. You tried to fill up at a place you’ve used before, but the station was closed.

You know another place that’s miles away, but you should make it, barely. 

When you get there the gas station has been replaced by a strip mall.

Now what?

If you were an exhausted and hungry bird facing this scenario you would probably fall to the ground, unable to travel on.

If you were lucky you might find enough water, food, shelter, and predator-free space to recover and travel onto your breeding or wintering grounds. If not, you, and possibly your whole flock, would die, never to fly or sing again.

Loss of bird-friendly habitat is occurring throughout the US and Canada, and bird populations have declined approximately 3 billion birds in just the last fifty years. 

For example, half the Wilson’s Warblers have vanished, and a third of the Dark-eyed Juncos have been lost. Distances between resting and refueling stops have become so great that many birds traveling migration routes will die from lack of bird-friendly stopovers.

Pileated Woodpecker using dead tree
Photo by Doug Parrott


There are fewer big trees for birds to nest and perch in, and fewer fields for eating and raising their young. It is often hard for birds to find clean water, especially in the winter.

What can you do?

Keep or plant trees— especially trees with fruits and add evergreen trees for winter shelter. Make 20-foot snags from the bottom of a dangerous tree. Dead trees shelter many cavity nesters and secondary cavity users, and actually support more wildlife than many live trees.

MacGillivray's Warbler stopping in route for a quick drink and bath
Photo by Christine Southwick

If you must cover a ditch, offer water and shelter to replace what you took away.

Gardens should supply bugs to feed birds, salamanders, garter snakes, dragonflies. If you make your gardens too clean, they become sterile for wildlife. Native plants and mulched leaves will make your yard bird friendly.

Dark-eyed Junco
Photo by Christine Southwick 
Keep a small wild corner, with unmown grass and weeds.

Make a brush pile for shelter, hiding and escape routes for birds. Brush piles and brambles provide shelter during winter cold also.

When you change a landscape to suit your tastes, ask yourself how you can supply water, food, and shelter to our native birds. 

They will reward you with delightful song, fun ID activity, and a sense of pride that you are helping compensate for habitat lose.




2 comments:

Anonymous,  June 14, 2020 at 2:00 PM  

Great reminders on how we can help our feathered friends!

Ramona Daniel Gault June 15, 2020 at 9:42 AM  

Thank you so much for these reminders! We keep a large part of our backyard wild and "untidy." Juncos have nested there two years now, but the neighborhood cat killed the nestlings last year. Neighbor is keeping their cat in this summer, thankfully. If we can get past that notion of "neat" (i.e., "sterile) yards, we can do so much for the birds!

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