Texas Partners in Flight

Personal Action and Involvement

You can take steps toward conserving migratory birds. Here's how to get started.

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Action From Your Desk

Educate Yourself

Photo of Barn Swallow

Action In Your Yard

Nearly three-quarters of the land in the United States is controlled by private landowners. Quite literally, the future of migratory bird populations depends on private landowner's actions.While few private landowners have large tracts of undisturbed forest, many have a small grove of trees or a few shrubs in their backyard. These areas can be significant to the survival of migratory birds, especially in urban areas, which often lack the minimal habitats that birds require for migratory stopovers, periods of rest and refueling. With considerate landscaping, foraging habitat for migratory birds can be created in even the smallest backyards. Here are some ideas for providing backyard habitat for migratory birds. Exactly what you can do depends on the size of your property, your budget, and personal preferences. Keep in mind that the widest variety of natural elements will provide resources for the greatest number and variety of birds.

Maintaining Habitat in Your Backyard

Birds require food, water, shelter, and nesting habitat for survival. They must also be protected from backyard dangers.

Providing Food

The types of foods that migratory birds requires vary according to the seasonal energy demands of migration, raising young, and molting. The birds begin to arrive in North America just as the first generation of spring caterpillars begins to nibble on the newly unfurled tree leaves. These tiny larvae, full of protein and water, become a major food source for birds during their stay at the breeding grounds. A pair of warbler parents can remove caterpillars from thousands of leaves in the ten days it takes to fledge a nestful of young. In fact, a recent study documented that if the birds were excluded from an oak sapling with a wire cage, the tree lost about eleven percent more leaf area to caterpillars than if birds were allowed to forage there.

Providing Water

For drinking and bathing, birds use water from a variety of sources as large as a lake or as small as a puddle. Does your property offer a constant supply of clean water for birds? If not, several simple and inexpensive methods of creating a water source for birds exist.

Photo of Tree Swallow by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service

Photo of Tree Swallow by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org

Providing Shelter

Birds need shelter to escape predators, such as hawks and cats. Shelters can also protect birds from harsh weather. Birds often take refuge in dense thickets of plants, such as brambles, hollies, and viburnums. Establishing shelter for migratory birds is an easy but vital task.

Providing Nesting Habitat

Finding adequate habitat to raise their young is becoming increasingly difficult for migratory birds. Migratory birds vary widely in the type of habitat they require for nesting. Most of the species that seem to be declining require large tracts of forest or grassland. Still, backyard habitat remains important. A good backyard habitat may encourage hummingbirds to nest in shrubs, phoebes to nest under the porch eaves, or a woodpecker to nest in the hollow of a dead tree.

Backyard Dangers

Having invited migratory birds into your yard, you have a responsibility to protect them from hazards associated with the human community.

Photo of Red Breasted Nuthatch by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service

Photo of Red Breasted Nuthatch by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.org

Stanley Temple and John Coleman of the University of Wisconsin calculated that free-ranging rural cats kill as many as 150 million songbirds annually. They estimate that birds make up 35 percent of a free-ranging cat's diet. While some view this as an overestimation, domestice cats are widely recognized as significant predators of songbirds. Many people believe that a collar bell will alert birds to danger, but research shows that cats either sit and wait for their prey or stalk very slowly. By the time a bell rings, it is too late. Research has also shown that declawing a cat does not prevent it from killing wildlife. Cats should be either confined indoors or be restricted to a fenced area.
Project Feeder Watch, run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, has collected data suggesting that at least 100 million birds die each year in collisions with windows, and Daniel Klem, a researcher at Southern Illinois University who has studied window kills extensively, estimates that 95 to 950 million birds are killed annually when they strike reflective windows. If birds are colliding with your windows, break up the reflective qualities of glass by rubbing soap over the surface to create a dull appearance. Other options are to install screens or hang a couple of streamers or objects on the window, or mount plastic garden protection netting on a frame installed approximately one foot form the glass surface. Birds that hit the screening will bounce off unharmed. Several commercial establishments sell falcon silhouettes, claiming that the image warns birds away from the window. Research has shown that these silhouettes are ineffective unless a number of them are used together. When they work, it is because the pattern of images breaks up the reflection on the glass, not because the birds are scared by the falcon image.
Countless birds die each year from direct contact with landscape and agricultural chemicals (from eating pesticide granules or being sprayed) or indirect contact (from eating poisoned prey). In your yard, reduce your dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides by cultivating native plants and reducing lawn area. Control pest insects by setting out pest-specific traps, interplanting species that repel insect pest, and increasing natural insect predators, such as lacewings, ladybird beetles, toads, and the birds that the garden was intended to attract in the first place. Use leaf and compost mulches to add nutrients to the soil. Refer to books on natural organic gardening and let your garden go wild.

For additional information write to:

Texas Partners in Flight Program
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
or send a message to: nature@tpwd.state.tx.us