For the Birds: Create Bird Habitat, Now

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Pileated Woodpecker excavating nest. Photo by Doug Parrott

By Christine Southwick

You may already know that loss of habitat is the Number One cause of bird species decline and the direct cause of their exhaustion and death.

Since you and I can’t affect most habitat loss directly, it often seems like a hopeless state of affairs. Sure, you can write to your Senator and Representative, but that may be a long-delayed effort. 

Additionally, you can become members of conservation groups like Nature Conservancy, and the Iocal and national Audubon Society. There are several local and effective Washington conservation groups like Forterra, and Mountains to Sound Greenway.

Bewick's Wren feeding grubs to nestlings. Photo by Elaine Chuang

But, if you want to be effective immediately, create bird and wildlife friendly habitat in your own yard and neighborhood. How?

Here in the northwest October is a good time to plant shrubs and trees. Start by planting NATIVE plants and trees. Plants and trees from other parts of the US or the world do not add habitat value.

Wildlife tree sign (available at Wild Birds Unlimited in Lake Forest Park)

Why? you ask
. Bugs, which birds need to survive, only live on plants that they recognize. Those plants that never have holes in their leaves because local bugs don’t nibble on them are basically lifeless as far as birds are concerned. Caterpillars, grubs, and bugs are bird-protein meals, needed all year long, especially for feeding their young, and during cold and wet times.

Create more prime bird-friendly habitat by making that dead, dying or over-powering tree in your yard into a “Wildlife Tree”. For many people a tree perceived to be dead or dying is ugly and therefore needs to be cut down.

To birds, a dead tree or one with dead branches is a thing of Habitat Beauty.

These snag trees are called “wildlife trees” since they can provide many layers of habitat for all kinds of birds and other wildlife.

Snag with juvenile Merlins here in Shoreline. Photo by Barbara Deihl

Most any species and size of tree may be used as a snag. Chickadees can nest in snags as small 4 inches in diameter and 6 feet tall. Snags 12 inches in diameter or larger, and at least 15 feet tall are great perches for hawks, eagles, owls, and even smaller birds.

“Birds, small mammals, and other wildlife use snags for nests, nurseries, storage areas, foraging, roosting, and perching. Live trees with snag-like features, such as hollow trunks, excavated cavities, and dead branches can provide similar wildlife value.”

Read more on the WDFW website. Most arborists in our area will create snags.

See all previous For The Birds columns here


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