by Louise Conner
Bird and wildlife populations have been taking a hit lately. To encourage more birds in your neighborhood, follow these tips when you work in your garden this fall.
Save the seeds. Seed heads of coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and other native wildflowers provide a helpful food cache for birds. Grasses—not the stuff you mow, but native species like bluestems or gramas—also make for good foraging after they go to seed. And letting other dead plants stick around can fill your property with protein-packed bird snacks in the form of insect larvae.
Leave the leaves. “Those leaves are important because they rot and enrich the soil, and also provide places for bugs and birds to forage for food,” says Tod Winston, Audubon’s Plants for Birds program manager. If a fully hands-off approach doesn’t work for your yard, consider composting some leaves and letting the rest be. You could also rake them from the lawn to your garden beds, or mulch them with a mower to nourish your lawn.
Leaf litter isn’t just free fertilizer—it’s also provides a patch of habitat for a variety of small critters. “If you’re digging in the garden and come upon these squirmy little coppery-brown dudes, and you don’t know what they are—those are moth pupae,” Winston says. A healthy layer of undisturbed soil and leaf litter means more moths, which in their caterpillar phase are a crucial food source for birds.
Build a brush pile. Rather than hauling away fallen tree limbs, use them to build a brush pile that will shelter birds from lousy weather and predators. Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, and other wintering birds will appreciate the protection from the elements. Rabbits, snakes, and other wildlife also will take refuge there. You’ll find that the pile settles and decomposes over the seasons ahead, making room for next year’s additions. (And it’s a great place to dispose of your Christmas tree.)
Skip the chemicals. In most cases, grass clippings and mulched leaf litter provide plenty of plant nutrition, and you can skip store-bought fertilizers. Generally speaking, native grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowering plants don’t need chemical inputs. Save a few bucks and keep your yard healthy for bugs and birds.
Hit the nursery. Consider creating a bird-friendly backyard by planting native shrubs and trees. (Cooler temperatures also make fall a more comfortable time to tear out some turf grass and expand your native plant garden.) Golden currants, hawthorns, sumacs, and other native flowering shrubs produce small fruits that not only feed birds during the colder months, but can also provide a welcome pop of color when winter gets drab. Planted in the right place, evergreens like cedars and firs give birds something to eat and a cozy shelter. Fall is also a great time to liven up your property with late-blooming perennials such as asters or sages—and to buy spring- and summer-blooming wildflowers at a substantial discount.
To find species suited to your yard, just enter your ZIP code in Audubon’s native plants database. If you plant trees or shrubs this fall, they might not bear fruit this year—but come next winter, you and your backyard birds will be glad you did.
From: “To Help Birds This Winter, Go Easy on Fall Yard Work” by Andy McGlashen. View entire article at: https://www.audubon.org/news/to-help-birds-winter-go-easy-fall-yard-work