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Top 10 Things You Can Do To Help Birds

Birds are all around us. In fact, they are probably the most commonly seen wild animals by humans. That makes bird life the perfect indicator of the quality of our environment. According to The State of The Birds, an annual report from a variety of educational and conservation institutions, wild birds of all kinds are in serious decline. Despite these losses, there are many opportunities to help the birds you enjoy by assisting with conservation efforts and doing a few other things that will help them to survive and prosper. Learn what you can do to help the birds of North America and the threats they face!

Male Dendroica Kirtlandii perched on a branch

Make Windows Safer, Day and Night. 

Many birds are killed and injured by window strikes. This includes many types of birds—as tiny as hummingbirds and as large as ducks. The toll in North America is estimated at 624 million birds per year, according to the 2014 State of the Birds Report. Although skyscrapers are the most obvious problem, the sheer number of small single-family buildings mean window safety at home is just as important. The issue has two parts: at night, lighted windows attract and kill migrating birds; in daylight windows reflect foliage or sky, encouraging birds to fly into them. 

Studies have shown that homes with feeders can have more bird deaths from window strikes, so it’s vital to place feeders a foot or less away from windows, which will lessen the chance that the birds will gain enough speed to be killed or injured if they do hit the glass. Even then it is important to reduce reflections, because birds may fly from longer distances to feeder reflections and gain enough momentum to cause serious harm or death. Use the “2 x 4 rule” to apply decals, paint, hanging strings, soap, or tape, such as ABC’s BirdTape: vertical rows placed four inches apart, or horizontal rows placed two inches apart. Decals don’t have to reflect UV light because it’s the pattern and spacing that matters. Shape is also irrelevant. If you go the tempera paint route, you can make it a fun, family activity,” ABC’s Christine Sheppard suggests. “Paint the windows for the next holiday—hearts on Valentine’s Day, turkeys at Thanksgiving, witches on Halloween."

 

large city buildings lit up at night

Join “Lights Out” 

Glass-fronted buildings with bright nighttime lighting may be architecturally pleasing, but they’re deadly. Up to a billion birds—mostly migrants—are killed in building collisions in North America each year. The U.S. Lights Out movement began in Chicago, where bird deaths at one building dropped by roughly 83 percent after the lights were turned off. Researchers estimate Chicago’s program saves 10,000 birds each year. Audubon began a Lights Out New York program in 2005, and now many of the city’s towers, including the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center, turn off their lights from midnight to dawn during peak migration season, September 1 to November 1.

Learn more by visiting cutting-edge ways to make windows safer for birds.

Keep Cats Indoors 

Many bird enthusiasts have learned you can be a cat lover and still help to protect birds at the same time. Keeping cats inside (as much as possible) is both good for the cat and good for the local wildlife.

America’s estimated 150 million outdoor cats kill serious numbers of birds—up to 3.7 billion a year, according to a new report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center. Tiny radio transmitters affixed to gray catbird nestlings in the Washington, D.C., suburbs by scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and Towson University showed that predators killed about 80 percent of those birds after they fledged (more than was sustainable) and that cats were responsible for nearly half those deaths. House cats in the so-called “kittycam” study by University of Georgia and National Geographic Society researchers carried tiny videocameras. The footage shocked the cats’ owners, revealing 44 percent of their pets averaged one kill every 17 hours outdoors. 

Two blue birds preparing to create a nest

Make Your Yard a Bird Oasis

Start by providing the basics: clean water, plants with flowers for nectar and insects (songbirds feed insects to their young), fruit-bearing plants to provide fuel for migration and winter, layers of plants for cover and thermal protection, nesting habitat and materials and feeders. Native plants are key—their architecture, flowers, fruits, and scents are ideal for restoring the communities and relationships birds depend on. Yards that mimic surrounding natural plant communities not only attract more kinds of birds, they could help reverse the loss of urban biodiversity, according to new research.

Create Communities 

Share your passion for birds with family and friends. And expand your patch of bird habitat into a larger urban oasis by working with neighbors and managers of nearby parks, golf courses, and farms. You will help restore habitat in linked corridors, multiplying the effectiveness of each patch. Restoring bird habitat can also help mitigate a city’s “heat island effect,” absorb storm water runoff, and combat the spread of invasive plants. Consider starting or joining a program like Bird City Wisconsin, which Milwaukee Audubon helped launch and that’s modeled, in part, on the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program. Sixty Wisconsin communities have been recognized as “Bird Cities” so far for habitat protection and forest management.

Green hummingbird feeding on a flower

Forgo Pesticides 

In the last five decades, pesticide use in North America has grown to exceed 1.1 billion pounds annually. Roughly eight percent of that is applied to yards and gardens. One particular lawn-care pesticide, diazinon, has been implicated in more than 150 mass bird die-offs. At the same time, U.S. researchers estimate that agricultural use kills 67 million birds each year. Pesticides also cause longer-term, potentially lethal effects ranging from eggshell thinning to neurological damage, and may be linked to human food allergies.

Become A “Citizen Scientist

You can identify and count birds coming to your feeder and transmit your data online—it becomes part of a huge database that helps scientists and conservationists who work to protect birds. For more information, check out the Project Feeder Watch website: feederwatch.org.

 large snow owl

Shop For The Birds 

This might surprise you a bit, but buying grassland raised beef actually helps the birds. Conventionally produced beef comes from animals fed corn and soybeans, crops grown on what used to be the great American prairie. Buying grass-fed meat supports grassland birds, which, because of habitat loss, are showing the most sustained declines of any bird group in the United States. Switch to shade-grown coffee. Each cup preserves roughly two square feet of rainforest. Even lumber can be bird-friendly; woodlands certified by the Forest Stewardship Council aim to conserve biological diversity by protecting old-growth stands, monitoring clear-cutting, and limiting pesticide use.

Cut Back On Your Use Of Plastics

The first plastic bags were produced in 1957, according to Worldwatch Institute, and we now throw away 100 billion a year. Many eventually wash into the ocean to join oceanic garbage patches, drifting gyres of trash that spread over huge sea areas. Every year the floating “bladders” of these bags kill hundreds of thousands of seabirds—along with sea turtles and marine mammals—which mistake them for jellyfish and squid, and then starve to death after filling their guts with plastic. Using less plastic also saves energy and, thus, bird habitat. Plastic is made from petroleum and requires energy—more fossil fuels—to go from oil to consumer good.

seagull perched on a fence post

Adopt-a-Species 

Pick a bird species from your flyway (choose from a list at audm.ag/AudPlan). Become an advocate for that species: work to protect and restore its habitat, educate your community, talk with school kids, or volunteer at a preserve or nature center. Learning about “your” species will enrich your connection with nature and give you a new understanding of the region where you live. 

AN OVERALL GUIDE TO BIRD THREATS

Environmental Changes

  • Forest Clearing
  • Filling in Wetlands
  • Dredging Rivers
  • Mowing Wild Fields
  • Cutting Down Trees
  • Habitat Division by Roads
  • Habitat Division by Development
  • Diverting Water
  • Natural Diseases

Animal Threats 

Many animals introduced into an environment can create stress on the animals that have already naturally adapted to it. These species can begin preying on the original inhabitants and are often considered introduced predator threats to native birds.

  • Dog
  • Cat
  • Rat
  • Mongoose
  • Ferret
  • Lizard
  • Snake

Pollution Threats

Pollution can have an adverse effect on native birds, often poisoning their food supplies, injuring their prey animals or interfering with their way of life in some other way. The pollution most problematic to birds are:

  • Household Chemicals
  • Industrial Chemicals
  • Agricultural Chemicals
  • Plastics
  • Oil Spills

Physical Collision Threats 

A number of physical, man-made objects can pose dangers to birds. Most of these threats are evident when birds are in flight, but some are when they are on the ground or in the water.

  • Power Lines
  • Dammed Rivers
  • Windows
  • Automobiles
  • Communication Towers
  • Wind Turbines

OTHER WAYS YOU CAN HELP WITH BIRD CONSERVATION

The State of The Birds report recommends a number of options to help the bird conservation efforts nationally and in your area.

Support Bird Friendly Legislation – Bird conservation societies often alert the public on legislation that can affect bird populations. In particular, watch for changes to the Farm Bill, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Contact your legislators to tell them you support conservation efforts. 

Support Habitat Protection Efforts – Monitor local planning commissions and zoning boards for efforts to develop habitats used by birds and other wildlife. Alert conservation societies on these proposals and fight to keep the habitats undisturbed.

Know the Endangered Species in Your Area – Learn what bird and wildlife species are already considered endangered in your area and engage in efforts to assist them.

Engage in Citizen Science – Participate in events, studies and surveys that help further the science of ornithology. These efforts include the Christmas Bird Count, maintaining eBird sighting logs, the North American Breeding Bird survey, Project FeederWatch and many more.

Create Bird Friendly Environments –  Build or rebuild habitats that birds can use. This can be on a small scale in your own yard, at a medium scale in a municipal park or on a large scale at a waterway or a major tract of land.

 

References

All About Birdsaudubon.org, Perky Pet, All About Birds, National Geographic

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