No bird can survive without a safe and nurturing habitat. But what does that include? Birders who understand habitats can take a wide variety of simple, everyday steps to protect those habitats and the birds that rely on them.
What Is a Habitat?
A habitat is more than just a patch of land where you might see birds. It is an entire ecosystem with all the plants, insects, predators, prey, water sources, landforms, bacteria, fungi, weather, climate, and seasonal changes that make each location distinct and support its life processes. Habitats can range from familiar forests, prairies, deserts, and beaches to urban and suburban parks, greenways, and gardens, agricultural fields and orchards, mountain ranges, canyons, tundra, and more. Every bit of natural space has the potential to be a healthy bird habitat, if it provides a complete community that can meet birds’ survival needs.
Why Protect Complete Habitats?
Nature is all about balance, and even the seemingly unimportant, barely noticed bits of habitats – that dead, rotting log, the pile of rocks on the riverbank, the scattered flowers on the lawn, the insects munching on a patch of lichen – have their roles in maintaining the balance of said habitat. The rotting log provides a place for birds to nest and insects for food, as well as shelter for ground-dwelling birds. The rocks help control water flow to minimize erosion and protect the riverbank’s integrity. The flowers are spots of color that attract pollinators for birds to eat. The flowers themselves may also produce abundant nectar. The insects on the lichen are another food source, and the lichen may be used as nesting material.
To provide healthy habitats for birds, it is essential that habitats be healthy for plants, fish, insects, mammals, soil, air quality, and water purity. When a habitat is diverse and thriving, it will be a great habitat for birds.See also: How Birds Help Your Garden
8 Easy Steps to Protect Bird Habitats
There are many easy ways that any birder can protect those habitats. No matter where they see birds or what habitats they visit, birders can help preserve them to nurture birds and other wildlife. To keep habitats at their best…
1. Lower Your Chemical Footprint
The fastest way to mess up any habitat is to contaminate it with chemicals. While the effects of toxic pollutants such as oil spills are very obvious, less well known is the idea that all the chemicals we use on a daily basis have the potential to negatively impact habitats. Perfumes, dyes, soaps, cosmetics, and other chemicals all run into our water supplies. This can build up in rivers, lakes, wetlands, marshes, and oceans. Does your car have a slow leak? Antifreeze, motor oil, brake fluid, and other chemicals can wash off roadways and directly into habitats. Even after treatments to clean water, the chemical impact can remain in our environment. Reducing all the chemicals we use is a good step toward protecting bird and wildlife habitats.
2. Respect Habitat
Being mindful of every habitat we visit is critical to preserving it. Whether it is a large preserve, a small city park, or just streets in your neighborhood, don’t litter. Consider joining cleanup efforts to restore natural areas. Stay on designated roads, pathways, and boardwalks so your steps don’t trample delicate plants and seedlings. Never pick wildflowers or fondle grasses, grains, and leaves in ways that could be damaging. Refrain from collecting natural specimens such as rocks, pebbles, or shells as keepsakes. Keep pets leashed to ensure they aren’t inadvertently damaging habitat, and take children to designated play areas where their rambunctious energy won’t cause problems for local wildlife.
3. Reduce Your Use (of Everything!)
The less you use, the less you risk contaminating the environment and damaging bird habitats. This goes for all consumable utilities – electricity, gas, water. If you trim down your usage, less production is necessary and fewer hazardous byproducts or unsafe conditions for wildlife. Can you rewear some clothing and eliminate 1-2 loads of laundry per week? How about taking a slightly shorter shower to use less water? Lower wattage on lightbulbs you only use for ambient light. Skip preheating the oven for forgiving recipes to save electricity. The greener the lifestyle you live, the greener you will keep all wildlife and bird habitats.
4. Put Away Plastic
Today we have more and more awareness of the dangers of plastic and its impact on our environment than ever. The less you use plastic, the better off all birds will be. Say no to straws or bring your own steel, glass, or silicone straws to sip. Bring canvas bags to the grocery store or carry small items by hand. Carry your own reusable utensils for lunches, and choose reusable containers for leftovers instead of plastic wrap or disposable baggies. You don’t need to put that bunch of bananas in a plastic produce bag when you buy it, and you can use your own thermal mug for your morning coffee instead of a disposable cup with a plastic lid. The less plastic you use, the less that may end up contaminating birds’ habitats.
5. Get Thrifty
Thrifting is the ultimate in recycling, whether you shop at thrift stores or donate your old or unwanted items for sale. Need a replacement for a broken dish or glass? Instead of buying a new set – complete with all its unnecessary packaging – check local thrift stores. You can find great deals on clothing, books, kitchen equipment, furniture, crafts, and more at thrift stores, resale shops, and consignment stores. Every item you buy is one that doesn’t end up in a landfill, and every item you donate that someone else may buy also avoids ending up as trash. Furthermore, many thrift stores are run by charitable organizations and nonprofits, so the money you spend is also helping other worthy causes even while it helps bird habitats.
6. Visit Habitats
Visiting habitats and enjoying the birds they host is a great way to help protect those natural spaces. As you are more aware of your local habitats, you can take even better steps to protect them through thoughtful voting, volunteer efforts, and raising awareness. Many government-funded parks, preserves, and refuges also rely on visitor feedback to increase funding and preservation projects. Be sure to sign guest logbooks, share your visit on social media, and invite others to join you so they will learn more about local habitats as well.
7. Preserve Your Personal Habitat
The tiny patch of habitat you call home can be a critical one for birds. Take the very best care of your personal habitat by reducing or eliminating pesticide, insecticide, and herbicide use. Remove non-native plants, minimize pruning, and allow your habitat to naturalize in a way that will benefit not only birds, but also bees, butterflies, toads, and other types of wildlife. Water your habitat appropriately and plant in tiers to provide dense bird shelter. Supplement its resources with suitable bird feeders, baths, and houses so that your habitat can support even more feathered residents.See also: How to Grow a Bird Friendly Garden
8. Donate for Larger Habitats
One person may not be able to make a great financial difference for protecting bird habitats, but when donations are pooled by larger organizations, those organizations can preserve tremendous swaths of critical habitats. Consider purchasing duck stamps or preserve memberships, or donate through conservation groups involved in habitat protection. If you aren’t comfortable with financial donations, consider working as a volunteer and donating your time, effort, and expertise. These efforts will protect local habitats, introduce visitors to nature, and otherwise protect the spaces birds need.
Even small steps can make a big difference for preserving bird habitats, and the more steps we take, the more habitats we will protect for all birds and wildlife to use, and for all birders to enjoy.