Today I went to a presentation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service given at a Chicago Wilderness meeting downtown. The service is forming what it calls Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) that will "comprise a seamless national network supporting landscapes capable of sustaining abundant, diverse and healthy populations of fish wildlife and plants."
Here in the Great Lakes region we already have cooperative entities such as the Great Lakes Initiative and Chicago Wilderness, so for many in the conservation community, LCCs seem like a logical development. The idea is that they would act as a sort of science clearinghouse, aiding and helping to coordinate across state boundaries the efforts of public and private conservation organizations.
We gardeners have a part to play in this: migrating birds, for example, don't distinguish between public lands and private gardens when they are looking for a place to rest. According to the presenter, with whom I spoke after the talk, many suburban yards, which comprise grass and trees, serve as "death traps" (his words) because they look green and leafy, but there aren't enough mid-level shrubs to serve as cover, nesting areas or food sources for birds.
Hence the three best things you can do for birds in your backyard:
- Don't use insecticides or pesticides. Birds, especially when nesting, eat insects and feed them to their young. In fact about 90 percent of their diet can be insects. A gardener who uses insecticides is actively discouraging birds from nesting--and potentially starving baby birds.
- Plant native bushes that produce berries and don't over-prune. Your standard barberry, boxwood or privet just doesn't cut it when compared to native Viburnams such as arrowwood (V. dentatum), nannyberry (V. lentago), American cranberry bush (V. trilobum), or blackhaw (V. prunifolium). Asian viburnums, while lovely, don't fit the complete ecosystem as well. Other bird favorites include chokeberries (Aronia species), serviceberries (Amelanchier species), and native dogwoods, especially pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). To see a list of birds that eat viburnum berries, go to Illinois Wildflowers.
- Plant seed-bearing native flowers such as coneflowers (Echinacea species) and bee balm (Monarda species). And don't cut them down until spring so birds can eat the seeds.