Simple things you can do to help native bird populations

Have you ever looked outside at that tufted titmouse, the singing white-crowned sparrow, or even that mischievous scrub jay, and thought “What can I do to make your life a little easier today, bird friend?” Well, wonder no more! I’ve outlined a few simple things we can do to bring a positive impact on our feathered friends and ultimately our local ecosystems.


*After the time of this writing I was woken up at 6am by a scrub jay screaming outside my window, so I take back everything nice I’ve ever said about them.


Keep your cat indoors.


We love watching our little Mittens play with the leaves outside our window, but they unfortunately wreak havoc on local bird populations. The Smithsonian Institution and the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that cats kill an estimated 1 to 4 billion birds annually. Trapping, spay/neutering, and releasing local strays to help mitigate local populations while keeping your precious floof indoors (or in an outside enclosure/harness) can help reduce the number of bird deaths attributed to cats.




When you brush your pet, leave the fur outside.


Birds love using pet hair as insulating material for their nests! And besides, it’s super fun to watch your husky’s winter coat become useful to tiny passerines come springtime. Just remember to keep thieving birds away from your friendly neighborhood koala.



Photo by Jan Johnson



*According to the Audubon Society, don’t do this with human hair, since it is long and strong, it can potentially be dangerous.


Clean your bird feeders and baths regularly.


Feeders and baths have the potential to become hotspots for disease and virus transmission, so washing and sanitizing them regularly will help prevent our little buddies from spreading pathogens.


Make your outdoor area bird-friendly!


We need to remember that habitat loss is the single biggest driver of bird population decline, as described in Ornithology by Frank Gill. Creating new habitat in your backyard (even a porch will work!) will help reduce the impact of anthropogenic influence on our native bird populations, even if just a little. So how can we go about doing that?


The National Audubon Society has a useful guide on how to go about improving your yard, but I will sum up some of the major points:

Plant a variety of native plants including those that flower, fruit, or have nuts/seeds. This provides a variety of food sources for birds, both from the plants and from the bugs that inhabit those plants. Remember: the less lawn in your yard, the better. When we plant different species of native plants, scavenging passerines and ground-dwelling birds have a lot more options! And, at the end of the season, always leave seeds for the birds to munch on.



The point I want to emphasize the most is to avoid pesticides. This article in Nature by Hallmann et al. illustrates just one example of widespread decline in bird species due to pesticide use. Not to mention, we need to protect our insect friends if we want to protect bird species, as they are faced with potential extinction due partially to pesticide usage. Using natural pest remedies, like native ladybug species, helps all members of the food web!


Protect them from your windows.


Easy things like turning off your lights at night (if you’re in a tall building) to reduce confusion can help mitigate the harm done via migratory window collisions, just look at the Lights Out New York initiative! Turning off lights from midnight to dawn significantly reduced deaths due to impact when enacted throughout the city. During the day, to prevent birds from flying towards their reflection in your windows, you can install one-way transparent tape, use mesh screens, or create subtle patterns using a glass pen.


Reduce plastic waste and plastic bag usage


This goes without saying and I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but we can all use a little reminder. Reducing our use of plastic bags prevents sea birds from mistaking the bags for jellyfish, and reducing the amount of overall plastic prevents the consumption of microplastics mistaken as seeds.


Did I just put two falseknees comics in the same blog post? Why yes, I did.


Volunteer!


Local audubon societies are always looking for volunteers, and you can make new bird friends! We love new bird friends!



Keeping our bird friends happy and plentiful is important in maintaining local biodiversity. Remaining mindful of our daily practices and how they impact the earth is the first step towards ecological harmony!