For the Birds Radio Program: Habitat Here Festival
The Arrowhead chapter of Wild Ones, a national non-profit that promotes sustainable landscaping using native plant communities to provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife, will be putting on a Habitat Here festival at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth. The festival will feature garden tours, information about invasive species, a native plant sale, kids’ activities, and a talk by Ron Bowen, the president and founder of Prairie Restorations, speaking about “native landscaping at home.” Laura will also be giving a presentation, focused specifically on enhancing habitat for chickadees.
People often ask me how to help the birds in their yards. They usually expect me to tell them to build birdhouses or set out feeders. Both of those things help individual birds if done properly, and make it ever so much easier for us to see birds, but they’re not at all the most important things we can do to actually help our neighborhood birds. What is? Get rid of invasive weeds, such as buckthorn, purple loosestrife, and garlic mustard. And replace them with native plants, from grasses and flowers to shrubs and trees.
Unfortunately, my expertise is in birds, not plants, so I’m not the best resource for knowing what plants to grow in what kinds of growing conditions. I’m afraid the last time I took any coursework about habitat was when I was in college in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at Michigan State University. This was back in the 1970s, during the dark ages—when the university extension office and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources were heavily promoting the planting of multiflora rose to enhance habitat. Birds feed on the rose hips, and the U.S. Soil Conservation Service had been encouraging people to grow it since the 1930’s to curb soil erosion. Unfortunately, multiflora rose is an invasive exotic that grows in dense thickets, crowding out native species. According to Wisconsin law, multiflora rose is now considered a nuisance weed and cannot be sold or propagated.
It’s unsettling for me to read how bad the effects of multiflora rose are when it had been so heavily touted by the scientific communities during my formative years. And it’s equally unsettling for me to read about the pesticides and biological methods now used to control it. The non-native beetles and wasps that attack it will almost certainly end up being just as bad as the rose is now, so it’s unfathomable why we even consider introducing them. Best to root out as many as we can—not very manageable on a landscape scale, but pretty easy as far as most of our own backyards are concerned. You do have to be vigilant—my husband has been chopping and digging out buckthorn for over a decade here, but it never completely disappears, in part because the birds we attract keep planting more. They eat the berries in one place and then poop out the seeds in my yard. If we were to allow them to mature and develop berries here, we’d be contributing to the problems.
What do we replace invasive plants with? Here’s where the real expertise comes in. There are plenty of people who know what locally native plants provide food or cover for wildlife. And this coming Sunday, these experts will be very easy to find. The Arrowhead chapter of Wild Ones, a national non-profit that promotes sustainable landscaping using native plant communities to provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife, will be putting on a Habitat Here festival at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth. The festival will feature garden tours, information about invasive species, a native plant sale, kids’ activities, and a talk by Ron Bowen, the president and founder of Prairie Restorations, speaking about “native landscaping at home.” I’ll also be giving a presentation, mine focused specifically on enhancing habitat for chickadees. So head on over to Hartley Nature Center on Sunday, August 22, from 10 till 3, for a fun and enlightening day. You’ll return home with valuable information and some native plants to get you started on making your own yard a valuable home for birds and a nicer, more sustainable place for you, too.