Make your yard bird and nature-friendly

Developing urban ecosystems in our own yards

When thinking about preserving complex ecosystems, many people think of our provincial parks and large-scale grasslands. However, with the total urban land in Canada doubling in the last 40 years, it’s impossible to ignore the native species that fill the patchwork of green spaces that are our yards.

Birds, in particular, are not only losing their natural habitats faster than you can say “tweet,” but are also being eliminated in massive amounts by their number one predator — house cats.

“As far as habitat in Calgary for many of our local bird species, it just doesn’t exist anymore or it’s really degraded,” said Barbara Kowalzik, a program advisor with The City of Calgary Parks Department at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Nature Centre.

“A good example is our wetlands. Over 98 per cent of our wetlands have been lost or degraded so that habitat just doesn’t exist. Whatever the citizens of Calgary can do in their own yards to promote that local habitat, will really help.”

Kowalzik said there are a few easy ways to encourage a variety of bird species in your yard.

These include ensuring you have a variety of shrubs and fruiting trees, which provide shelter, nesting and meals for many species. Typical trees and shrubs that are desirable are Mountain ash, Saskatoons, or even sunflowers.

“You also want to decrease the amount of pesticides you’re using,” said Kowalzik. “Birds are fantastic at eating the bugs and critters we don’t want in our gardens such as slugs and mites.”

Another great way to attract birds, and help them bulk up before their long, migratory flight south, is a bird feeder. As long as they are scrubbed once a week (with one part bleach and nine parts water) to ensure diseases such as conjunctivitis aren’t spread, Kowalzik said it will attract many birds to breed and nest in your yard.

When asked why we would want to encourage birds to frequent our backyards, local bird enthusiast and blogger with Birds Calgary, Pat Bumstead, said our yards are the perfect entry point into nature-enthusiasm and education — particularly for children.

“Even if you don’t want to feed the birds, which can be messy and sometimes expensive, birdbaths are great.” said Bumstead. “If you have the habitat that birds like, such as shrubs and you have a birdbath that is clean and filled, you will get a huge variety of birds. I’ve even had someone send me a photo of an owl in their birdbath!”

One final thing Kowalzik said to keep birds safe in your yard, is the application of decals to your windows. With all of those berries fermenting around the Christmas season, you’ll have some drunk-flyers around (mainly Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings) that need some reminding as to where the windows are.

A move to urban conservation has recently been at the forefront of policy for both municipal and federal governments. The City of Calgary has pledged along with Edmonton and Montreal to join the Durban Commitment — an international promise to focus on biodiversity in our city.

“Healthy habitats are what keep us alive,” said Chris Manderson, urban conservation lead for The City of Calgary Parks Department. “It’s no longer good enough to say ‘Well, these are things that happen out in the country or in the wild and don’t affect me in the city.’ A good example is how a healthy urban forest is important for helping cool-off cities. With climate change, this is likely to become even more important in the near future.”

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