Earth Day 2021 Supporting Birds Restores their Health and Ours
Apr 19, 2021
“In nature, nothing exists alone.”
— Rachel Carson, 1962
Birds are an “indicator species,” animals whose presence and behavior can tell us about the health of an ecosystem. On Earth Day and every day, supporting birds and preserving their habitats is vital to protecting our planet and restoring the environment to a healthy place for all living things.
“Restore our Earth” is the theme of this year’s Earth Day. You can restore your piece of the earth – your backyard -- by planting a bird-friendly habitat with local plants that require less maintenance to thrive. Planting native plants and maintaining a bird feeder and/or bath is a great way to increase biodiversity and help native species survive. It also allows you and your family to connect with the nature around you, and will establish care and concern for the environment that may impact future decisions.
Plants are a source of food (nuts, seeds, insects), moisture (sap, nectar) and shelter for birds. Here are some ideas for creating a bird-friendly backyard:
- Creating corridors. Help birds travel safely by creating edges of trees, shrubs or brush piles along the borders of your yard.
- Think in layers. Vary heights among plants for birds that prefer different elevations for feeding and nesting. For example, shade-tolerant plants beneath large trees.
- Color in the edges. The greatest variety of bird life is found in places where different habitats join, so plant flower and grass beds alongside hedges.
- Evergreens. Adding evergreen trees helps provide shelter for birds in winter.
- Bushes or Brush Piles. You can greatly increase the number of birds visits to your feeder by adding nearby bushes (within 20 ft.) that provide cover to which birds can fly back and forth from the feeder. Brush piles can also serve as cover and increase their sense of security.
In addition to helping our backyard birds thrive, it is important to support conservation efforts of bird populations in the wild. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, passed by Congress in 1973 to protect fragile species and their habitats, efforts to bring back once-threatened birds and animals have proven successful and provide hope that we can restore bird populations – and the health of our shared world.
American Bald Eagle populations have quadrupled since 2009, according to a report published in December 2020 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Using data gathered by USFWS and Cornell Labs’ eBird checklists (thank you, Citizen Scientists!), eagles that were once on the brink of extinction – with just 417 known nesting pairs in 1963 – are now flourishing, with more than 71,400 nesting pairs. Habitat protections, conservation efforts, and banning the use of DDT all contributed to the multi-decade effort.
The emergence of eagles from endangered status joins the 50-year conservation effort of the Kirtland’s Warbler, which was removed from the list in 2019. In 1971, its population declined 60 percent, with just 200 singing males. Michigan state and federal agencies replanted jack pine forests – the warbler’s favored habitat – over the course of 30 years and removed 3,500 brown-headed cowbirds due to brood parasitism. With cooperative efforts among conservation partners, the Kirtland's Warbler population is now estimated to be over 2,300 pairs – more than double the recovery goal.
Birds not only indicate earth’s health, they also play a vital role in maintaining our planet’s delicate balance by controlling pests, spreading seeds, and acting as pollinators. They respond quickly to changes in our environment and, as such, should be carefully monitored and supported for their sake – and ours.