Gardening for the birds

With the devastating news last week that North America has lost about 3 billion birds since 1970, many of us are wondering what we can do about it. It turns out at least part of the answer can be found in our gardens.

One of the key things we can do is plant natives, according to the National Audubon Society. In the Bay Area the best time to do that is right now, in the fall, so young plants can settle in and establish themselves during the rainy season.

This is also a good time to buy native plants at sales around the region; for instance the Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden holds its annual fall sale the first Saturday in October (that’s Oct. 5 this year) at Tilden Park in the hills above Berkeley, and the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society will hold one Oct. 20 at Hidden Villa in Los Altos.

A wren tit perches in a local toyon tree, one of many native plants that support birds. (Photo by Janet Duerr)

What to plant? Audubon has a handy feature where you can type in your zip code and it will email you a list of bird-friendly natives that are suitable for your area, along with a list of birds each plant will attract.

One tip that especially resonates with me is to cut back on the fall yard work and leave your yard a little messy (don’t you love the sound of that?) I have trees planted on two sides of my back yard against the fence, and the leaves are piled up so thick below them – I’m not sure I’ve ever raked them in the 20-plus years I’ve lived here – that they have created a thick layer of mycelium-rich, compost-like soil. Certain birds love to rummage through the leaves, and in fact these are great places for birds and bugs to forage and for critters like salamanders, worms and toads to live, according to Audubon.

A white-crowned sparrow takes advantage of Bay Area native vegetation. (Photo by Janet Duerr)

Where you see a messy brush pile, birds and other creatures see shelter from storms. So feel free to leave the grass on the long side, let the leaves stick around to do their magic and don’t rush to yank out plants that have gone to seed, because guess who wants to eat those tasty seeds?

Details are on the the Audubon website, and if you’d like to learn more about native plants and why they’re important, check out CNPS.

National Geographic has more tips for protecting birds here.

Top photo: A Western meadowlark (Matthew Pendleton, Macaulay Library at Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

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