Featured

2018 Year of the Bird: Partnership with National Geographic

January 1, 2018 (from David J. Ringer, National Audubon Society)

Today marks the beginning of an exciting partnership between National Geographic, Audubon, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdLife International, and dozens of other partners to make 2018 the “Year of the Bird.” Let’s use this year to bring tens of thousands of new people to the cause of bird conservation! To honor the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Year of the Bird will be about celebrating the wonder of our feathered friends, examining how our changing environment is driving dramatic losses among bird species, and highlighting what people can do to reverse this trend. National Geographic will be creating new bird content throughout 2018 for their various platforms – magazines, books, maps, TV, digital channels, experience events, lodges, and kids programs. There is a dedicated Year of the Bird website at birdyourworld.org, and during each month of 2018, a themed call-to-action to inspire people to help birds. Audubon is creating specialized Year of the Bird content at audubon.org/yearofthebird to help people learn about the threats birds face today and to inspire them to take action in line with Audubon’s priorities – from creating bird-friendly homes to growing native plants for birds to taking part in community science programs like the GBBC to using their voice to advocate for birds.

Integrated Pest Management is Good for Birds

(by Kim Adelson) –

Since many of us are now welcoming the opportunity to work in our gardens, this month I’m focusing on an important strategy to make your outdoor space more of a haven for birds. You can make your yard more wildlife-friendly by providing food, water, and shelter; diminishing the chances of window strikes and the threat of predation; and eliminating toxins.

Toxins in yards come mainly from insecticides and herbicides. Every year North American homeowners spread more than 130 million pounds of pesticides— far more than farmers do; many are harmful to birds. Because many pesticides aren’t specific to one type of organism, they can also injure people and pets, with numerous neurological effects, asthma and allergies, cancer, and birth defects. The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, pesticides poison 3 million people each year, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths annually. Generally, insecticides are more toxic to people and birds than herbicides.

The alternative to pesticides is integrated pest management, a common-sense approach that involves:

  • Preventing infestation problems by maintaining a healthy, unstressed garden
  • Identifying and learning about garden pests
  • (Using that knowledge to) remove the pests’ food and water supplies
  • Trying to physically exclude those pests from the area
  • Learning to embrace or at least tolerate harmless species
  • Allowing a reasonable number of harmful pests
  • Using the most benign pest control methods first, with toxic methods only if absolutely necessary
  • Using targeted pesticides as sparingly as possible

 

Prevention: Happy, healthy plants are harder to infest and infect. Use compost to enrich your soil and mulch to discourage weeds and retain moisture. Leave three inches of lawn when you mow, and water less frequently but more deeply to encourage deep root growth which helps choke out weeds. Get rid of weeds before they go to seed and propagate, and cull sickly, diseased plants before their condition spreads. To avoid fungal infections, water early in the day so plants dry out before nightfall; similarly, water the ground around the plant rather than wetting the leaves. Best of all, go native, since well-placed native plants typically require little pesticide and are disease-resistant.

Physically exclude pests: Consider draping non-ornamental plants in fine netting material, to keep insects from eating them and laying eggs on them. Stymie grubs with collars of rolled plastic placed around your plants’ stems and pushed several inches into the dirt.

Remove food and water sources: This is generally more of a house issue than a yard one. Removing food and water supplies discourages noxious insects, but it also discourages desirable ones as well as birds.

Accept harmless species: Many insects are benign and even desirable, since they prey upon their more troublesome brethren and are important food for birds. Learn to identify wanted species and leave them be. (Better yet, make your yard welcoming to them: they’re not named slug-eating beetles and parasitic wasps for nothing!)

Accept a reasonable number of pests: Since we live in an area with lots of wild, undeveloped land, a stray thrip or two, some whiteflies, etc. are going to land on your property. Of course you don’t want them to unduly multiply, so nip the problem in the bud, so to speak, and remove them as you find them, but there is no need to over-react and start spraying everything in sight.

Instead . . .

Employ benign methods: There are so many! Knock insects off your plants with a hose or vacuum them off. Set out sticky traps. Bury a few coffee cans with their lips flush with the ground, so insects fall in and can’t crawl out; if you want to be fancy, put a piece of ripe fruit on the bottom to entice bugs. (More elaborate homemade traps that don’t harm beneficial insect are available, too.) Plant “trap plants” that destructive insects prefer to lure them away from other plants. (Think marigolds, sunflowers, zinnias, and nasturtiums for flower beds, and dill, mustard, chives, and basil in your gardens.) Numerous homemade solutions—made from boiled garlic, castile soap, Epsom salt, Tabasco, or Neem oil— make benign sprays to deter aphids, spiders, spidermites, and caterpillars. Slugs avoid crushed eggshells. Recipes can easily be found by doing a Web search.

Most native plants attract beneficial insects and birds that prey on pests. Put up bat houses: a single bat can eat up to 8,000 insects per night. Do all you can to attract birds: most eat insects, especially during the breeding season; even birds we generally consider seed-eaters offer their hatchlings a primarily insect diet. Prune away disease as soon as it appears, and be sure to wash the tools you used before they touch healthy plants. All my gardener friends in New Zealand—as a group, Kiwi gardens are more “picture perfect” than ours—prune out infestations, hose garden pests off their plants, and kill weeds in yards and sidewalk cracks with boiling water. It is a mark of shame to have to employ artificial chemicals.

Use targeted pesticides only as a last resort, and only products targeted to your pest. In general, non-insects are less likely to eat insecticides in bait traps with small openings than freely spread insecticides; granular formulations are especially attractive to birds. The most important insecticides to avoid, because of their toxicity: organochlorines (e.g., dicofol, methoxychlor), organophosphates (e.g. diazinon, isofenphos, chlorpyrifos), and carbamates (e.g. aldicarb, carbofuran, bendiocarb). [Neonictanoids, such as acetamiprid and chothianidn, are relatively safe for birds and mammals but kill pollinating bees.] Herbicides containing dinitrophenols, such as dinoseb or paraquat, are especially toxic to birds. No matter what product you use, avoid spraying on windy days, and never near a water source.

Healthy gardens attract and support bees, parasitic wasps, ground beetles, lacewings, and butterflies, which help plants by being pollinators or by consuming plant predators. They are high in fat and protein and provide much needed food for birds. The goal is not to have a bug-free garden, but one with a thriving community of beneficial, useful insects. This will in turn attract birds. Please avoid using harmful chemicals: there are alternative strategies, and your yard and the birds we love will thank you. (by Kim Adelson)

Armchair Birding: The Wood for the Trees, by Richard Fortey

(by Anne Kilgannon) –

Sometimes things really do come in threes, if you just look for the connections. This winter I gaped in awe as we tramped an emerald green—and every other color of green imaginable—feathery-cushioned landscape of moss covering every surface of tree and rock on the wooded acres we had just purchased. The local conservancy biologist exploring with us hushed and stooped to separate a few tiny leaves from the general “moss” and revealed a wild orchid pushing up through the carpet. I was entranced by the tiny world, the pulse of life seen close up, the stunning richness of dozens of kinds of moss and the treasures hidden within their tangle.

And soon after that experience, E. O. Wilson published a searing essay in the New York Times, “The 8 Million Species We Don’t Know.” He was not writing about the charismatic tigers, bears and wolves, whales and redwood trees, vital as all these beings are, but about the small uncounted, unstudied life forms that nonetheless are the warp and woof of life on earth. He noted, “The most striking fact about the living environment may be how little we know about it. Even the number of living species can be only roughly calculated.” If we are going to save them, first we have to know them. Wilson admonished, “Do not call these organisms “bugs” or “critters.” They, too, are wildlife. Let us learn their correct names and care about their safety. Their existence makes possible our own. We are wholly dependent on them.”

I found an excellent book on moss, Gathering Moss, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and began to study. Those acres are a responsibility and an opportunity, a classroom and laboratory. But I was soon at sea. I needed more grounding for my new project, more guidance on how to go about learning this piece of the world and how to think about and care for it.

As luck would have it, the third thing came to hand, the right book whose title engaged my curiosity: The Wood for the Trees, One Man’s Long View of Nature, by Richard Fortey. Fortey, like us, had just purchased a few acres of woodland, in his case in the Chiltern Hills near Oxford, and had conceived the notion to document his land from the ground up, and through time, as only a paleontologist can contemplate it. Admittedly he had some excellent help not available to us, as he could call up colleagues from the Natural History Museum of London, but he is generous with their advice and insights. We are introduced to charming and dedicated specialists of crane fly study, fungi, myriad beetles, and shy woodland mammals, to name a few.

To give you an idea of his approach and ambition, here is a sample: “Charles finds one example of his own favourite (British spelling!) group of miniature organisms: a rotifer. We are now at the edge of visibility, which I set as the boundary for the Grim’s Dyke Wood project. And there are many smaller creatures in this living soup.” He goes on to describe a one-celled creature, while “other protists whizz by under the microscope like tiny self-propelled machines, too fast to identify. All these organisms feed on others still smaller, and far too minute to be readily observed beneath Charles’s binocular microscope.” Which means that Charles takes the specimens back to his lab for further study. E. O. Wilson would be beaming!

At the other end of the scale, Fortey concentrates on the predominant life form in his woods: beech trees. Not only does this book look backward to the formation of the rocks under the skin of life, it proceeds seasonally over a year, so we begin our study of the woods when the bluebells are spreading lakes of blue under the trees, fueled by sunshine not yet blocked by unfurled leaves. We then follow the trees as they stretch and flourish through spring and summer, only to slow and drop their leaves and hunker down through fall and winter. Just as the trees do not exist alone but harbor whole worlds of birds, mice, beetles, moss and everything imaginable, the beeches live embedded in human history.

Fortey includes humans, their economy and ecology, as not separate but joined and vital in his natural history of this place. Humans have used, shaped and been shaped by the beeches since the beginning of their shared existence. He finds traces of ancient practices and follows woodcraft through the ages as people coppiced, harvested, saved and lived with these trees from Anglo- Saxon, Norman, Tudor and more recent eras. The woods have survived because people lived so closely and with great dependence on them, as fuel, as wood for buildings and furniture, as bungs for barrels and uses so various as to “always” have a use. I am encouraged to include in my study the shell middens hidden by the moss and the old stumps, relics of pioneer logging efforts on our own land. We too will leave our trace.

I am barely giving you a hint of the richness of this work. The trees are the foundation of the woods, obvious to say, but the tiny creatures munching the leaves and helping create the soil, the moss snugging the surfaces and holding water, the red kites flying over the canopy are integral to the health of the place. Fortey brings them all into the picture, a living, breathing whole world, intricate, interdependent, delightful and though seemingly timeless, existing in season and century. We are a part of it all. And it all matters.

The Friends of LBA Woods is offering opportunities for a holistic study of a “place” through a series of guided nature walks and a citizen-science project to catalogue the biodiversity of life forms in the upland forest of the LBA Woods. Watch their website www.lbawoodspark.org for details. (by Anne Kilgannon, Beech Trees photo by Callum Black, Wikimedia)

Get ready for spring birds

According to surveys by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, bird watching is second only to gardening as our favorite outdoor pastime.  It even outranks hunting and fishing. These surveys reveal that 47 million of us over the age of 16 are bird watchers.  We buy a hundred million tons of bird seed every year. And bird watching as a business generates $107 billion in annual revenues for the U.S. In Washington State alone, wildlife viewing and related photography add nearly $7.5 billion to state and local economies.

As one of America’s fastest growing hobbies, bird watching can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities, from shut-ins to families with small children to those who travel the globe to add new birds to their life lists.

March may seem early for migrating birds, but resourceful males know that the early bird gets not only the worm but also the best nest sites. A prime location, plus gorgeous plumage and a seductive song, can make them irresistible to arriving females. But the siren song of spring is also a signal that it’s time to get those bird houses and feeders ready for the coming waves of northbound birds.        With bird houses, it’s important to make sure dimensions such as hole size are suitable for the species you hope to attract.  Chickadees don’t want to trust the safety of their families to nest cavities easily invaded by bigger birds, such as European Starlings. The Internet offers many good web sites with tips and detailed plans for selecting, building and placing bird houses. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website allaboutbirds.org is an excellent place to start. It also has a wealth of other information about birds, including recordings of their songs.

Of course bird feeders need to be kept clean and safe in every season of the year.  Well maintained bird feeders that are kept stocked with fresh, uncontaminated sunflower seed, niger seed or suet can attract a colorful parade of backyard birds, both year-round residents and those that make seasonal appearances along our Pacific flyway. Spring migration can be a visual feast. You never know what you’re going to see next.

Perches and feeding surfaces should be scrubbed and sanitized regularly. You can use a 10% bleach solution and follow it with a clean-water flush. Feeders should be placed close enough to shrubs, trees or other protective cover that birds can quickly dash to safety when they are targeted by predatory hawks.  But feeders should not be so close that cats can use the cover to ambush unwary birds. Outdoor cats kill billions of birds every year.

As our most visible and accessible wildlife neighbors, birds can be a source of endless fascination and enjoyment as we watch, feed and listen to their delightful spring chorus.

Article courtesy Gene Bullock. Gene has been writing a monthly column for the past five years that appears in six Kitsap weekly newspapers as a promotion for Kitsap Audubon.  He is the Newsletter Editor and Education Chair for the Kitsap Audubon Society. Photos courtesy Carrie Griffis. Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches are among the diverse variety of birds attracted to backyard see and suet feeders. Black-headed Grosbeaks are easily attracted with sunflower seeds.