Why Birds Need Help
One third of our North American bird species are vanishing. Stanford University conservation ecologist Cagan Sekercioglu believes that one fourth of the world’s bird species will be extinct within a century. The primary cause is habitat loss. Nature preserves are too small and too few to support viable populations of native animals and plants, and they are surrounded by land that is becoming increasingly degraded by human use.
Habitat loss causes species loss. According to entomologist Douglas W. Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, if we destroy 80% percent of a mature ecosystem, we can expect to lose 80 percent of that ecosystem’s species eventually. And we have modified over 95 percent of the environment in the lower 48 states since 1700. Tallamy writes, “As far as our wildlife is concerned, we have shrunk the continental United States to 1/20 of its original size.”
Although we still have large areas that appear wild, much of that land has been overrun by invasive exotic plants, which are useless as food sources for the native invertebrates which make up the base of the food web. As of 1998 one third of our native plants were close to extinction. For each plant species destroyed, between ten and thirty species of invertebrates are also lost. Those invertebrates are a critical food source for our native wildlife, and they are in decline. Unless we restore much of our land to a more natural state, we will ultimately destroy a large number of our native plant and animal species, including birds. But what do we mean by a “natural state?”
Many people believe that the standard American yard qualifies as bird habitat. Unfortunately, the typical lawn provides inadequate food and shelter for birds and the insects they depend on. Lawn grass is a monocrop – a single species which doesn't replicate the mix of native grasses, flowers, and shrubs which meadows once provided. Many nursery grown landscaping plants originate in other continents and support far fewer insect species than do native plants. Moreover, homeowners who plant invasive exotic species as ornamentals contribute to the spread of plants that crowd out natives.
This is possible.
Photo courtesy of the MN DNR
The good news: Anyone with a bit of green space, from several acres to the smallest container garden, can have a significant impact on the health of the food web and our wild kin. We can foster the survival of our birds by planting native flora, providing shelter, and limiting the damage from man-made dangers such as windows and domestic pets.
The following pages will outline the basics, and provide resources for learning more:
Planting for Wildlife
Food and Shelter