With Your Neighbors

Photo © donkeycart

Why You Need Others

Did you know that the average territory of a breeding Baltimore Oriole is over one and a half acres 1? That’s four times the size of the average back yard! Most species of backyard birds are actually using an area much larger than you observe. No matter how inviting your yard is, birds are going to have a much more difficult time locating and thriving in your habitat if it is the only welcoming yard on the block. Managing your yard for birds, no matter what size your patch, is one small step for birds, but if you want to make a giant leap, you must rise to the challenge of organizing your community as a positive force for birds. Unless you live in a community planned around maintaining habitat for wildlife, chances are that birds aren’t utilizing the neighborhood in a uniform way.

Organize your community as a positive force for birds

Front Yard Garden

This front yard garden shines with color!

Photo © JAGwired

Lead By Example

If the prevailing landscape in your neighborhood is homogeneous (as in, unappealing to birds), the best way to maximize habitat complexity is to lead by example. Here are a few ways to turn humdrum lawn culture into homegrown habitat pride:

  1. Identify any local groups already working on habitat improvements in your community. Examples include your local Audubon chapter, city landscape commission, city parks department, local bird club, neighborhood association, university cooperative extension office, community sustainability organization, or others.
  2. Gardening is contagious, so let your wildscape spill out into your front yard for the world to see (no more wasted space!). Let your front yard be an example for others who might be just starting to experiment with front-yard plantings but don’t yet have the courage to put shovel to lawn.
  3. Keep your own cat indoors, but socialize with outdoor-cat owners and explain the benefits of keeping feline friends inside. If there is a Trap-Neuter-Return policy in your town, speak with city council members about the effects of free-roaming cats on wild bird populations. Inform them of more effective and humane alternatives to managed cat colonies.
  4. If someone has an important habitat component in their yard, be sure to tell them how much wildlife value it has. For example, your neighbor has a large-diameter tree that is very old, but he has expressed concern over it falling down one day. You can help him become aware of the importance of large-diameter trees for wildlife. Recommend to your neighbor a certified arborist (a tree care professional) who can discuss the alternatives to complete removal (such as cable-bracing or topping) with him.
  5. Once you’ve identified key neighbors or stakeholders, work with them to promote awareness within the community. Come up with a group goal to work towards, however small; for example, you could work to re-establish a Chimney Swift population, or bring the screech-owl back to your community.

Neighborhood (Bird)Watch

Your neighborhood probably has some great features already (a snag here, a pond there) that can be connected with corridors and linked to the larger habitat matrix. Birds use resources from the wider landscape and don’t recognize private boundaries like individual yards 2, so you should look beyond your own yard, too. You’re not alone in your quest for biodiversity at home or in your local green space 3; once you start asking around, you might be surprised at how many neighbors want to contribute. Most people just don’t know where to start, and even though you are still learning, you already have enough expertise to move forward. Just take any small step in the right direction, and remember to make it fun for you and your team! Check out these tips to get started.

Neighborhood Watch

Without safeguarding birds from unfamiliar predators, like neighborhood cats, your community could become bird-poor.

Photo © jk079

Make It Official

You don’t have to build a coalition from scratch! When you’re ready, your team can register your Community Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. They provide a scaffold upon which you can build your neighborhood’s commitment to wildlife stewardship. Taking steps to improve the habitat earns you points in a system that is based on community population size. With enough points, you can certify your community as a wildlife habitat. Once you are certified, celebrate your achievements with a block party! Fifty-five communities across the US are already certified, and dozens more have registered their intent. Communities coming together around the common goal of habitat creation is a monumental accomplishment (and a cornerstone of YardMap), so show your pride by promoting your program in your state and region. You can even submit your whole community for consideration as a Featured Site in YardMap.