All over the country and world are large expanses of land that are virtually worthless to wildlife. There are many examples of wasted space: industrial parks, retail parking lots, school grounds, church land, and backyards. These lands are “landscaped” to provide a pristine look of neatly trimmed bushes, ornamental trees, and grass so precise you’d think it was carpet. To a bird (minus European Starlings, House Sparrows, and maybe a few American Robins) this land is worthless. To a birder it is wasted space.
As I travel around the county I live in, Winnebago, in northern Illinois I see a lot of things – bad drivers, ugly cars, cool birds, and some landscapes that really need some work. There are schools with wide areas of lawn that even the children find boring. There are churches with large areas of land with no other use than providing someone with the task of mowing. And backyards watered and fertilized endlessly just to make grass grow so it can be cut.Just imagine how much the world we live in would be improved if people got together and altered these wasted spaces to provide a diversity of plants, trees, and shrubs to benefit birds (and other wildlife for that matter). Thousands of backyards linked together forming one large blanket of habitat. School kids playing in forests and prairies at recess, seeing birds nesting, hummingbirds coming to wildflowers, and just providing a nicer look on a warm spring day.
The great thing is that it doesn’t take much to change wasted space into something great. Our backyard has always had birds because we have a nice diversity of trees. However, it had too much grass so we did something about it. Gradually we dug up the grass and replaced it with flowers, fast-growing trees, and shrubs – all native to our area. Our front yard, once an open area of grass now has over 20 species of prairie plants and a warbler-magnent of a tree. We added feeders and water features (simple ones to start and a pond in the works) to attract even more wildlife.
Has our work been beneficial? Over the last three years we have spent probably a total of $1000 or less total (less than a dollar a day). Some of the projects have worked and others have not – our water features look a little odd with hoses and garbage can lids and some of the trees we’ve planted died. But the net result has been over 80 species of birds sighted, including some awesome warblers like Black-throated Blue and Cape May and we even had a Scarlet Tanager. Not exactly typical backyard birds, especially in a city of 150,000 people.
I will continue to post ideas and projects to help promote CAWS as well as many other ideas in the future. If you have some ideas, let me know by adding a comment or emailing me!
Also, please check out Bird Advocates to read some great information about the ongoing problem with feral cats. This is a huge issue and more important than many birders realize.