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The ABCs of Saving Wild Birds Part 2

You can take every day actions to help wild birds, such as growing fruits or setting aside a wild bird habitat on your property.

Peter Stangel, Ph.D.
Posted: April 30, 2013, 3:45 p.m. PDT

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Check out the ABCs of helping wild birds part 1 here.

E Is For Evangelical Birding
I was born again as a birder on the California coast. For years, I’d kept my birding habits a secret, having wearied of harassment from my teen peers.

Then, on the bluffs overlooking the beaches of the Monterey peninsula, I realized just how much my closet birding had been cheating me, other people and the birds.

On this fateful day, I took courage and shared my spotting scope with strangers.  One after another, they reveled in close-up views of dowitchers and gulls, ducks and grebes.

No one poked fun at me. Everyone enjoyed themselves. I feel certain that at least one of those strangers now sees birds with a new eye.

Blue Jay
Berries and fruits attract bird species that might not come into your feeding stations.

Ever since, it’s been difficult for me to keep my interest in birds to myself. In fact, the real joy in birding for me has become sharing birds with others.

Anybody is fair game. What’s amazing is that almost everyone with whom I share a bird loves it.

The benefits are many. First, I’m exposing novices to the beauty and fascination of birds.
Sharing birding is like introducing someone to fine art, classical music, gourmet food and reading. Hours of pleasure and spine-tingling sensations follow.

Becoming an evangelical birder isn’t that difficult. Keep it simple.

My greatest ally is my spotting scope. Putting a bird in the scope saves a novice the challenge of finding a bird in a binocular, and the 30-power magnification results in some eye-popping images.

The simple act of dousing a light could be the most important action that you take for migratory birds this year.

You don’t need rare birds. Try a Canada Goose, Mallard, Red-tailed Hawk or anything else that’s easy to find. You’ll be amazed at how a close-up view of even common birds will entrance novices.

You needn’t go into the wilderness, either. Choose a place where there are lots of people and a few birds. Set up your scope in a high-traffic area, find the bird, and become fishers of birders.

My challenge to you? Introduce one person to birding before the next issue of WildBird arrives in your mailbox. You will find it one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of your birding life.

F Is For FLAP
Not the movement of wings, although that will be one very positive outcome. FLAP, Fatal Light Awareness Program, draws attention to hazards posed to birds by brightly lit buildings and other structures. This problem is particularly acute during migration when millions of birds move from nesting areas to overwintering sites.

Bird species have been finely tuned by generations of migration to navigate by the moon and stars. The glow produced by brightly lit buildings and cities can disorient migrants. Artificial lights might attract migratory birds into urban areas, where they can become exhausted by flitting about the lights or end up colliding with a building.

Millions of migratory birds die in collisions every year. As a result of educational campaigns by caring citizens such as yourself, more cities are adopting measures to reduce or eliminate lighting during peak migration periods.

In many cases, this is just a few weeks each spring and fall. It might result in considerable energy savings for the building owners.

The key, of course, is education. Visit the FLAP website for its easy-to-understand educational materials. Consider sharing these with building managers at local facilities. A letter to the newspaper editor might catch the attention of important landlords in your area.

No one wants to find dead birds on the sidewalk after a big night of migration. The simple act of dousing a light could be the most important action that you take for migratory birds this year.

G Is For Growing Fruits For Food
Day in and day out, my favorite place to bird is my yard. To keep things exciting, I plant fruit-bearing shrubs and trees that attract birds into the places where I can watch them up-close and personal.

It’s not an entirely self-serving action. Fruit can provide much-needed nutrition for bird species, especially during migration, when carbohydrates are the name of the game for long-distance flyers.

Select fruit-bearing plants native to or at least appropriate for your area. Avoid invasive, exotic species that can destroy native vegetation.

Check with your local wild bird retail store or visit websites for your state wildlife agency, local Audubon chapter or nature center to learn what’s best for your locale. Native plants often require less water and care than exotics, which can be a real plus.

Berries and fruits attract bird species that might not come into your feeding stations. For example, the beautybush (Callicarpa americana) in my yard lures Hermit Thrushes that otherwise rarely show up at my feeder. I even saw insect-loving Eastern Phoebes dropping in for some fruit on cold days when the bugs weren’t flying.

Don’t have a yard? No worries. Buy a fruit-bearing shrub for your office park, church or synagogue, or local school. If you have the good fortune to be involved with landscaping plans for a facility, see if they’ll spring for plants that provide food for birds.

H Is For Habitat
If we could get the presidential candidates to focus on issues important to us, they surely would say, "It’s the habitat, stupid.” Loss of habitat is the most important threat to birds and our natural world.

Start in your own yard or the land surrounding the building where you work, worship or educate your kids. Habitat certification, provided by National Wildlife Federation and some local Audubon chapters, offers guidance on what to do. It boils down to providing safe places for birds to rest, nest, eat and drink.

In many cases, one of the easiest and most effective solutions is to set aside a small patch of yard and let it go wild – no mowing or management. The tangles of native plants will be great for birds.

We did this at the club where I play tennis – just stopped mowing a long strip of edge next to the property boundary. The Eastern Towhees and Brown Thrashers loved it.

If you want to get fancy, buy a Duck Stamp at the post office or sporting goods store to help protect wetlands habitat. Also consider supporting your local land trust that seeks to conserve the lands in your neighborhood.

Remember: The key to success is to take action.

Looking for information on bird feeders?

Hopper Bird Feeders
Window Bird Feeders
Jelly Bird Feeders
Globe Bird Feeders
Nyjer or Thistle Bird Feeders
Tube Bird Feeders
Suet Bird Feeders
Hopper Bird Feeders
Platform Bird Feeders

Excerpt from WildBird March/April 2008 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing LLC. To purchase digital back issues of WildBird Magazine, click here.

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