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Lazy Gardener, Accidental Birder


Lazy Gardener, Accidental Birder

A lazy gardener becomes an accidental birder


It was one of those rare, warm sunshine-filled autumn mornings, while  enjoying my morning tea, that I realized I had become an accidental birder. As a lifelong gardener I have always enjoyed the company of wildlife. On this morning I realized I was having a conversation with a mockingbird that was perched on a limb in a tree near my hammock.

In response to the seemingly endless playlist of this longtime visitor, I found myself repeating the warbling to the best of my untrained ability and adding my personal touch.

Was it wishful thinking or were this bird and I having a conversation?

I have become familiar with bird songs or calls over the years, often hearing them way before seeing these feathered friends. I discovered the (audible) Macaulay Library of Birds Songs is online.  I am now attending the Cornell University “How to be a Better Birder” course which can train me, for free, how to recognize and identify birds and their songs.

There, I learned that my cardinals, the fifth generation to live in my yard, can sing more pitches than can be played on a piano.

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I also learned that songbirds, like people, have regional accents. A cardinal in New York City will sound different than the one in my yard, who has the bird version of  a southern twang. As nestlings, birds listen closely to their fellow birds and commit these songs to memory. They practice as they grow, eventually getting it pitch perfect.

So why do I call myself an accidental birder? Because many of the changes I have made to my yard over time have been accidentally fortuitous to attracting birds as well as other wildlife.

I became a lazier gardener. Yes, let your grass grow a little higher, leave some leaves and let an area of your yard get a little wild. If there is a dead tree, (not near your house of course), let it be. They are great for nesting. Stop the madness of chemical yard sprays. Would you sacrifice birds and other wildlife to get rid a few dandelions

Higher grass and leaf cover allow insect larvae, worms and other creatures to flourish and create a protein source for ground-feeding birds. The “wild areas” will attract birds and other beneficial creatures.

Take the money you save from your lawn service and sprays and look into adding native plants to your landscape. The symbiotic relationship between native plants and native wildlife is fascinating and undeniable. Many bird species depend on the a particular bush or flower to produce food at a particular time in order to perpetuate their species. At first I accidentally helped birds by growing native plants, including Beauty Berry, flowering sages, Black-eyed Susan, coneflowers and milkweed, a host plant for the Monarch butterfly. Gasp! I even let Poke Berry grow – the birds love it. Let these plants go to seed in your yard to give birds a great reason to visit all winter.

Birds need drinking water and love to splash to clean themselves. Providing a bird bath can be as easy as putting a shallow pan on a rock. Make sure to clean it and replace the water regularly.

I recently spoke the regional director of National Audubon’s Society’s Mississippi–South region and on the Arkansas Audubon Society board, Jack Stewart of Jasper, Ark. His wife, Pam, is also a member. They want everyone to go a little wild.

“Our vision is to become the largest bird sanctuary in the U.S., with many yards providing resting, nesting and feeding places for resident and migratory birds, providing bridges connecting to the local ecosystems which are increasingly fragmented by development,” she said. Participants obtain a Bird Friendly Yard Certification on Arkansas Audubon website.

Many years ago I became an accidental soldier in one of the longest battles of urban America: human against squirrel; Yes I decided I would buy a bird feeder.  Visions of beautiful feathered visitors danced in my head  as I giddily purchased a lovely feeder and suspended it from a tree. With premium bird seed, I unintentionally created a master race of squirrels. Each new bird feeder with its baffles and bells and whistles meant to deter the squirrels was only a crash course for each new generation of squirrel adolescents in “How to Become a Better Bird Feeder Bandit 101.”

It was a battle I lost and that is when I truly started to plant native plants to preserve my wild birds. I now watch birds with great joy as they eat from native plants, build their nests and raise their young. Whether you choose to start very small, just looking out your window, or go full throttle with birding expeditions, you will be helping yourself mentally and physically as well as helping our fellow species. No special equipment is required – just an interested heart and mind. 

– By Reba Mize


This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

 

 


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