20. Learn about the flora and fauna in your neighborhood and region.

Thistle with bee and monarch butterfly

Most well-educated adults have never had an opportunity to study the basic plants and animals native to their areas, or even their own backyards. Many educated adults can’t identify in the field the natural resources that their local economies depend on. When we don’t understand basic ecological principles, such as natural forest succession, it’s harder to make wise decisions about forestry issues. When we don’t understand basic aquatic ecology, we don’t recognize the signs of vegetation choking our lakes and streams or the harm caused by eutrophication. Democracy depends on a well-educated citizenry that can make wise decisions about the issues of the day, but as the world grows more complicated, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to be knowledgeable about the many issues that policy makers must deal with. This is a sad shortcoming of our educational system, but fortunately, it’s also something that can be corrected—and you can even have fun doing it. Taking inventory of your backyard habitat will prepare you for the next step: enhancing that habitat.

Cedar Waxwing feeding on Juneberry

It’s an easy matter to visit a library, bookstore, or nature shop and browse through the field guides to trees, flowers, insects, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Consider purchasing a few guides dealing with the wildlife that you find particularly interesting. Learn to recognize the most common trees, wildflowers, and creatures native to your region. Then go beyond mere identification and learn more interesting facts about these plants and animals and how they interact with other species.

Northern Parula in apple blossoms

Usnea lichen

From 101 Ways to Help Birds, published by Stackpole in 2006. Please consider buying the book to show that there is a market for bird conservation books. (Photos, links, and updated information at the end of some entries are not from the book.)