Helping to Conserve Birds - Local Level

Once people are aware of the escalating extinction crisis, "How can I help?" becomes a frequent question asked of conservation biologists. Fortunately individuals can do a great deal to fend off the silent spring that will surely come if degradation of North American habitats and the tropical wintering grounds of many of our birds continues. In fact, you can make substantial contributions to the conservation of birds not only at local and national levels but at the international level as well.

In some ways working at the local level is most personally rewarding. Results come more quickly, and are more easily recognized. For example, if you have a back yard you can make it a haven for birds by planting native ground cover, shrubs, and trees. Your local Audubon Society chapter as well as the excellent Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds by Stephen Kress can provide information on both the plants that are important for birds in your area and on the diets of these birds. In many areas, providing a source of fresh water may be as important as supplemental feeding.

You should also limit the use of garden pesticides as much as possible -- something that could benefit you as well. If you must tackle a pest problem, start with conservative techniques; use powerful jets of water from a hose to decimate insect infestations on trees, or use pesticides based on the natural chemical pyrethrum. If you must resort to synthetics, restrict the area in which they are used. Paint the chemicals on plants with a brush or use large-droplet sprays that drift less readily than fine aerosols. To limit their spread, spray and dust pesticides when the air is calm.

Whether you become a lone activist or join with your neighbors, the main focus of political action at the local level should be preservation of quality bird habitats. Wherever areas of natural vegetation are destroyed, local bird populations are likely to decline, but this does not mean that you have to resist all development. The challenge is to encourage development and conservation to go hand in hand. One way is to steer development into areas that have already been seriously disturbed -- to focus on redevelopment rather than the destruction of relatively undisturbed habitat. The provision of greenbelts, of course, should be encouraged wherever possible. Strips of habitat along streams can make urban areas much more hospitable to birds and other wildlife, as well as to people. Turning waterways that run through cities and towns into concrete canals should he resisted politically wherever flood control is not a serious consideration. Similarly, old railroad rights-of-way and hedgerows can provide homes for a diversity of birds. Even the edges of freeways can provide important patches of habitat; they need not be manicured grasslands or vistas of imported iceplant, offering neither perches nor cover. City parks can be designed, within the limits of security requirements, to host a maximum of species. Central Park is the only haven for birds that some New York City bird watchers can frequent. Even though it is in the middle of the busiest city in North America, the park is visited by hundreds of bird species annually.

SEE: Helping to Conserve Birds -- National Level; Feeding Birds; The Decline of Eastern Songbirds; Island Biogeography; Birds and the Law.

Copyright ® 1988 by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye.