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Creating a Bird-Friendly Garden
A Merlin on the lookout, Courtesy Nancy Stephens.

"Everything in Nature is a wonderful miracle. Isn’t the little bird flying through the vast sky a miracle?" - Amma

In the past fifty years, we have lost one-third of the bird population of North America. That is about three billion birds. Gone. It would be like waking up one morning and realizing that one-third of the homes in your neighborhood had vanished.

This did not happen suddenly, but slowly over time. There are many causes, but there are standouts:

  • Habitat loss due to over-development and the filling-in of natural wetlands

  • Climate change affects habitat, migration, and the availability of food

  • Pesticide and herbicide use, both in agricultural, residential, and public areas. Birds eat bugs; if there are no bugs, there are no birds. As my favorite entomologist, Dr. Doug Tallamy, says: "If there are no birds, there is no us."

  • Other big issues leading to this loss are bird-window collisions. Here in the U.S. alone, we lose approximately one billion birds each year this way

  • Outdoor cats, both feral and domestic, are responsible for approximately 1.4 billion bird deaths annually in the U.S.

  • The use of non-native plants, especially invasive species, is another factor. Using plants that are not native to an area means that there are fewer bugs for the birds

  • Other issues include hunting, fireworks, road trash, cigarette butts on beaches, and fishing lines in lakes, rivers, and oceans

The list of issues is daunting, but take heart, there are solutions. Some are easy and others will take time, energy, and effort. I will discuss some of them in this article and include more in future articles.

Louisiana Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush courtesy Tom Hince


One shining example of a bird-friendly community is Amma’s Amritapuri Ashram. I visited in 2004 and 2008 and loved seeing and hearing the local birds. Now, each morning during live streaming from the Ashram, I am enthralled by the cacophony of bird song. Clearly, the birds are thriving there.

Here are a few steps you can take to create your own bird-friendly community, right where you are; your yard, your garden, your patio, your apartment balcony, your front or back porch. They are small scale but powerful.

  • Skip the manicured lawns and the pesticides and herbicides. Research native plants that will thrive in your area. Connect with your local Audubon Chapter and Native Plant Society for helpful information on this.

  • When you trim plants and trees, save the clippings and branches. You can use the clippings as mulch (no cost!) and stack the trimmed branches in a safe spot. You have created habitat. Dead trees, called snags, create habitat and nesting areas

  • Two helpful websites are https://www.audubon.org/ and https://www.birds.cornell.edu. Watch Dr. Doug Tallamy’s webinar “A Guide to Restoring the Little Things that Run the World” from 9/22/2020 on YouTube.

If we all do something small, we can make something big happen for the birds!

Florida Scrub Jay
Florida Scrub Jay courtesy Michele Reyes
Limpkin courtesy Sandra Maraffino

On January 3, 2022, my local Audubon chapter, Marion Audubon Society, participated in the National Audubon Society’s 122nd Annual Christmas Bird Count. This annual count is done nationwide on any chosen date from mid-December through the first week in January. This allows each area of the country to choose the time that is best for bird counting.

We had a total of 12 teams that covered the southwest corner of Marion County and a total of 37 birders counting in such diverse areas as the Rainbow and Withlacoochee rivers, the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve, and the Oak Run and On Top of the World communities to name a few.

We counted 102 different bird species and a total of 5,621 birds! Due to the pandemic, we were unable to do the count for 2020; so this was doubly exciting. (See https://www.ocalagazette.com/claiming-1-3-of-our-birds-back/)

The data from each team is compiled and sent to the National Audubon Society. It is then submitted to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology where it is used to track the migration and population of our country’s birds. This is the value of ‘community science’. Ornithologists, scientists who study birds, cannot be everywhere. We are indeed the boots on the ground. To find out more about how you can support community science and the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count or view the results from this year’s count, visit audubon.org.

Small changes can make a big difference when it comes to supporting bird populations. With the small steps outlined above, we can contribute to creating bird-friendly habitats that help birds thrive in our own yards and communities. With a little effort and grace, the natural beauty birds bring to our world will increase and create joy for others, just like the birds we hear in Amritapuri when we tune in for Amma’s programs.

"Life is filled with God’s light, but only through optimism will you experience that light. Look at the optimism of Nature. Nothing can stop it. Every aspect of Nature tirelessly contributes its share to life. The participation of a little bird, an animal, a tree, or a flower is always complete. No matter what the hardships, they continue to try, wholeheartedly." - Amma

Sushant and Vallabha, Florida
See Vallabha's article on the Great Backyard Bird Count on page 12 in the Ocala Gazette)

Red Bellied Woodpecker
Red Bellied Woodpecker courtesy Paul Nistico

Read about Winter Gardening from the Q1 2022 newsletter >>


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