It is no secret that habitat is critical for birds, and habitat loss is a significant cause of bird population declines. Habitat conservation is the single best step anyone can take to help protect birds, and fortunately, it is also one of the easiest.
First Do No Harm
The easiest way to provide a safe habitat for birds is to protect the habitats birds already use. Every place birds live, from urban parks and suburban fields to tropical jungles, desert canyons, and open tundra, is a potential habitat for birds.
To keep that habitat useful, it is essential to:
- Preserve Personal Habitat: Even a small backyard can be vital to birds that live there, and as other local habitats may disappear, individual yards become even more critical for greater numbers of birds. Minimizing pruning or cutting down trees, avoiding excessive chemical use, leaving leaf litter intact and allowing snags to stand are all easy ways to keep a backyard habitat productive for birds.
- Dispose of Chemicals Properly: All household chemicals can potentially contaminate habitat both locally and on a larger, more disastrous scale as they enter water reservoirs and spread to soil and plants. Chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides should always be used responsibly, not overused in ways that may contribute to the excessive runoff in the environment. Other potential contaminants such as motor oil, soaps, and medications should be disposed of safely so they cannot affect habitat and wildlife.
- Live a "Green" Lifestyle: Conscientious, eco-friendly living is always helpful to preserve habitat by minimizing pollution and reducing environmental stresses. Choosing a low-emission vehicle, reducing water and electricity use, minimizing your carbon footprint, recycling regularly, carpooling and other common sense steps all help protect habitat that birds and wildlife need.
- Respect Habitat: An often overlooked way to protect habitat is to respect every existing habitat. This means staying on marked trails so delicate plants are not crushed, picking up all litter including something as small and seemingly harmless as discarded gum, and not fiddling with new buds or growth on nearby trees or shrubs. Flowers should be allowed to bloom rather than be picked, and pets and children should be carefully supervised, so they do not accidentally damage habitat.
Easy Ways to Protect Bird Habitat
Protection, preservation, conservation—they all mean the same thing, keeping habitat in good shape to meet the needs of wildlife. For birds, that means habitat must be able to provide nutritious food, clean water, safe shelter, and secure nesting sites. There are many easy ways that even casual birders can help habitat do all those things.
- Visit Refuges and Preserves: Public wildlife refuges, nature preserves, and bird sanctuaries keep visitor logs to track attendance. The more visitors a refuge hosts, the more government funding the facility may be eligible to receive. Every dollar can help preserve plants, remove invasive predators, and promote programs to introduce visitors to nature and wildlife, inspiring new birders and nature lovers.
- Buy a Duck Stamp or Memberships: One individual may not be able to buy thousands of acres of pristine habitat for birds, but programs such as the Federal Duck Stamp combine smaller donations into tremendous purchasing power. Fundraising efforts from birding organizations can also be used to protect bird habitat, and membership fees often support habitat conservation for birds.
- Patronize Habitat-Friendly Businesses
Preserving habitat is a group effort, and supporting local businesses with habitat-friendly practices helps increase those efforts. Shopping at these businesses encourages more habitat protection on local and regional levels. Even choices such as opting for bird-friendly chocolate and coffee can keep habitat protected, especially in neotropical areas migratory birds rely on most.
- Support Habitat-Friendly Legislation: Birders don't need to be legal or political experts to protect habitat in legal and political ways. Staying informed about ongoing legislation that affects habitat development, refuge boundaries, and wildlife protection is essential. Informed birders can then cast appropriate votes to protect habitat as well as be in contact with their elected officials to encourage political support for saving critical habitat.
Create New Habitat
While preserving habitat is essential, it is not enough to keep existing habitat intact. Too much habitat has already been lost, and many birds are threatened by a lack of suitable habitat within their ranges. Creating new habitat, no matter how small it may be at first, can help reverse the damage and provide more space for birds and other wildlife to thrive.
- Remove Invasive Plants: A single invasive plant can quickly choke an ecosystem and make habitat completely unsuitable for birds. In many cases, just removing those unwelcome plants will revitalize the habitat so it can be productive and useful again. This can be an ongoing battle in many areas, but it is one that must be fought to restore valuable habitat.
- Design Bird-Friendly Landscaping: Whether it is a project as small as a single yard or as large as a city's park system, the more bird-friendly landscaping that is designed, the more suitable habitat there will be for birds. This means choosing plants thoughtfully to provide food, water, shelter, and nesting sites for birds. Various native plants such as seed-bearing flowers, berry bushes, and evergreen trees are all important parts of bird-friendly landscaping.
- Protect Against Window Collisions: It is inevitable that bird habitats and human habitats will intersect, and those intersections need to be as safe as possible. Taking steps to prevent bird window collisions is vital. Birds also need to be protected against other threats in their habitat, such as colliding with wind turbines, power lines, or other structures.
- Supplement Natural Spaces: Birds will never have as much natural habitat available as there was before human development began, but supplementing remaining habitats can help make those spaces even richer for birds. Adding birdbaths, feeders and nesting boxes to habitats will provide birds with essential resources even in smaller, more limited habitats such as backyards or city parks.
Habitat's importance to birds and other wildlife cannot be overestimated, and conserving habitat is vital to help protect birds. With many different ways to help protect habitat and even create new spaces for birds to thrive, it is easy for every birder and bird lover to save habitat that will save birds.