Keeping Your Backyard Birds Safe
DANGERS IN THE GARDEN
Having invited migratory birds into your yard, you have a responsibility to protect them from hazards associated with the human community.
The Problem: Dr. Stanley Temple and Mr. John Colemen of the University of Wisconsin estimate that rural cats in Wisconsin kill 20-150 million songbirds (35% of a rural cat's diet) annually. Many people believe that a collar bell will alert birds to danger, but research shows that cats either sit and wait for their prey or stalk very slowly. By the time a bell rings, it is too late. Research has also shown that declawing a cat does not prevent it from killing wildlife.
The Solution: Cats should either be confined indoors or be restricted to a fenced area.
The Problem: Bird feeders, unsecured garbage cans, open landfills and deliberate handouts all act to artificially increase the numbers of predators that feed on migratory birds in a given area. Mammalian threats to migrants include raccoons, skunks, squirrels, and feral cats. Birds that eat the eggs and young of migrant songbirds include jays, crows, and grackles. Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of many songbirds. Because cowbirds hatch earlier and grow faster than the young of migrants, they receive a disproportional amount of the food. As a result, the true offspring starve or are crowded out of the nest, to perish on the forest floor.
The Solution: Refrain from placing food scraps out for wildlife. See that your local landfill covers debris on a daily basis and ask local farmers to refrain from feeding their livestock in low, open trays.
The Problem: Dr. Daniel Klem of Southern Illinois University estimates that 95-950 million birds are killed annually when they strike reflective windows. Project Feeder Watch, run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, has data suggesting that 100 million birds die each year due to window strikes (this sample is heavily biased toward "feeder species" and may underestimate deaths of other birds).
The Solution: Break up the reflective qualities of glass by rubbing soap over the outside surface to create a dull appearance, installing screens, one-way tinting, hanging streamers, or other objects on the window. Or, mount plastic garden protection netting on a frame installed approximately one foot from the glass surface. Birds that hit the screening will bounce off unharmed. Several commercial establishments sell falcon silhouettes, claiming that the image warns birds away from the windows. Research has shown that these silhouettes are ineffective unless a number of them are used together. This works not because the birds are scared of the falcon image, but because the pattern of images breaks up the reflection on the glass.
The Problem: Countless birds die each year from direct (eating pesticide granule or being sprayed) or indirect (eating a poisoned prey item) contact with landscape and agricultural chemicals.
The Solution: Reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides by cultivating native plants and reducing lawn area. Control insects with pest specific traps, interplanting plants that repel insect pests, and increasing natural insect predators, such as lacewings, ladybird beetles, toads, and those birds that the garden was intended to attract in the first place. Use leaf and compost mulches to add nutrients to the soil. Refer to books on natural organic gardening and let your yard "go wild."
A Project for the Backyard Conservationist
by: Jamie K. Doyle, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
and Craig Tufts, National Wildlife Federation
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