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Georgia Audubon receives grant to reduce invasive plants, create bird-friendly habitats

Georgia's state bird — the Brown Thrasher — is one of 254 vulnerable species around the state. (Photo by Andy Makely, Unsplash.)

By Hannah E. Jones

The folks with Georgia Audubon — a conservation nonprofit dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats — are working to combat a troubling decline in Georgia’s bird populations. The nonprofit recently received a $74,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to support these efforts. 

In Georgia, 23 percent of the state’s 254 bird species are classified as vulnerable due to habitat loss, climate change and other factors, according to a 2019 report by The National Audubon Society. One of the species deemed at “high vulnerability” is the Brown Thrasher — the state bird. 

English Ivy, a common invasive plant in Georgia. (Photo by Dottie Head, courtesy of Georgia Audubon.)

Through this grant, Georgia Audubon will expand its efforts to educate the public about the importance of native plants, particularly bird-friendly species. The team will also increase its monitoring of invasive plants around Georgia. 

While some non-native plants can provide sustenance to birds through fruit, seeds or nectar, they don’t provide the same quality of nutrients compared to natives. Additionally, around 95 percent of birds rely on insects to feed their young and without the proper plants to host a diverse population of native insects, local bird populations will dwindle.

“Our ecosystems depend on birds, and birds depend on the resources provided by native plants,” Executive Director Jared Teutsch wrote in a recent release. “When an ecosystem is not functioning for birds, it is or soon will be detrimental to people, too.”

He continued: “As the largest statewide organization connecting people with birds and healthy habitats, Georgia Audubon can play a critical role in promoting responsible, voluntary behaviors that can slow the spread of invasive plants …all through the lens of birds.”

As part of this initiative, Georgia Audubon will expand its Plants for Birds Program — a nationwide effort spearheaded by The National Audubon Society to plant one million native plants to create healthier habitats for birds and other wildlife. Through this project, residents can learn how to create a natural oasis in their backyard. So far, the Georgia Audubon team has distributed or planted a total of 57,876 native plants around the state.

This property was certified as a Wildlife Sanctuary. (Photo by Dottie Head, courtesy of Georgia Audubon.)

The team will also use the new funds to bolster its Wildlife Sanctuary Program, an initiative that recognizes residents who have created critical wildlife habitats and encourages others to do the same by introducing native plants and removing invasives. Since the program’s inception, the nonprofit has certified at least 774 properties as Wildlife Sanctuaries, including residential and commercial spaces.

Folks looking to make their pocket of the world more bird-friendly should pick species that can host the greatest number of insects. For example, Habitat Program Manager Gabe Andrle recommends trees like oaks, willows and poplars, along with flowering perennials like goldenrods, sunflowers and asters.

“The exciting thing is that you can make a big difference in your yard,” Andrle said in a previous interview with SaportaReport. “Starting with supporting those insects can go a long way to supporting our native flora and fauna on a larger scale, and using native plants is really the fundamental way to start doing that.

To learn more about ways to support local birds, click here for a wide selection of resources. You can also register for “Planting with Purpose,” a virtual event on Feb. 18 and 19 that’s presented in partnership with the Georgia Native Plant Society.

Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.


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