This is the time of year when Conejo Valley Audubon is putting the finishing touches to its Lawn to Habitat program; a program that has flourished for the last seven years thanks in large measure to people in the community who want to make a difference in the natural world. Why is such a program so important? To quote the Handbook of Bird Biology from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Every piece of outdoor space, from city parks and suburban backyards to rural farmlands and forests, can serve as habitat that helps conserve birds. The elements that birds need to survive – shelter, nesting habitat, food and water – can be maintained in all kinds of backyards, schoolyards, and parks.” In observing nearby natural habitats where birds can be found, such as the local oak woodlands and hillside chaparral, there are several things that are apparent. The native plants offer ready protection from predators as well as safe places to build a nest and successfully raise young. These same native plants support the variety of bugs and worms essential to the nutritional requirements of fast-growing chicks. When walking your native habitat, i.e., yard, it is important to remember that bugs are essential so no pesticides or lawn chemicals should be used.
Placing water close to protective shrubbery is also important. A simple shallow plate that is about an inch deep provides birds with drinking water as well as a place to bathe and to cool off. I will never forget seeing a young Coopers Hawk standing in one of these dishes in my yard on a very hot day. He looked a little out of place and he certainly lost any ability to sneak up on the songbirds at the feeders, but he was hot and needed to cool off.
In talking about providing a safe habitat for birds it must, also, be noted that cats should be kept indoors all year round. In the US alone, about 2.4 billion birds are killed annually by free-roaming house cats.
There are many ways to create a bird-friendly habitat from a sterile expanse of green lawn and now is the time to do it.