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Audubon Society’s Georgia Grows Native for Birds: A month-long education, celebration of native flora and fauna

A Goldfinch stands on a coneflower, a plant native to Georgia. (Photo by Dan Vickers, courtesy of Georgia Audubon.)

By Hannah E. Jones

In less time than the average human lifespan, over three billion birds have disappeared from North America. Since 1970, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one in four birds is now gone from the continent, mostly due to habitat degradation and loss. 

To help combat this unsettling trend, Georgia Audubon is kicking off its fifth annual Georgia Grows Native for Birds event in September, an initiative to celebrate the local flora and fauna and educate residents about the importance of native plants and the roles they play in our ecosystem.

Last year, Governor Brian Kemp signed a proclamation designating the month as such. The educational events and programming are a collaborative effort between Georgia Audubon, the Georgia Native Plant Society and other state Audubon chapters.

An American Robin hangs out on an Elderberry Bush. Native plants are essential for bird populations to prosper. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Audubon.)

The connection between plants and the surrounding wildlife is an important one, and ecological disruptions from invasive species are detrimental to animal populations. As strong advocates for Atlanta’s local birds, the Audubon team has crafted a month of programming to help educate residents about the importance of native plants and encourage them to use their own backyard as a place where the winged animals can thrive.

The month’s events include a native plant sale, a wildlife sanctuary tour, conversations with experts and workshops that teach participants to identify plants or turn their backyard into a wildlife sanctuary. 

“[The goal] is to get people thinking and understanding the value of having native plants in our local ecosystems and backyards, and how powerful those can be to helping birds, insects and the whole plethora of creatures that we have here in our local ecosystems,” said Gabe Andrle, Georgia Audubon habitat program manager. “I’m always excited if one more person is putting native plants in their yard.”

Native plants are essential to the bird population because around 95 percent rely on insects to feed their young and, Andrle explained, “if we don’t have the native plants to support those insects, then our bird populations will dwindle.”

To help support the local fauna, Andrle recommends starting by removing invasive plants. Key offenders include kudzu, english ivy, heavenly bamboo and monkey grass. But rather than pulling out the Roundup, folks can instead cut or pull the roots of the plant, then dispose of them in a trash bag. If the plants are left in a compost pile, it will likely continue to spread.

From there, you can plant new natives or let nature take over and discover species that might already be there, just suppressed by the invasives, he advised.

When picking new plants, Andrle emphasized that diversity is key, meaning you want to pick species that can host the greatest number of insects. He suggests trees like oaks, willows and poplars, along with flowering perennials like goldenrods, sunflowers and asters.

This month, folks can tour local certified Georgia Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries. (Photo by Dottie Head, courtesy of Georgia Audubon.)

Those who want to take their conservation efforts to the next level can apply to designate their property as a Georgia Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. So far, there are 773 certified sanctuaries, primarily residential land in Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb Counties.

“The exciting thing is that you can make a big difference in your yard,” Andrle said. “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.”

He continued: “We’re really looking forward to Georgia Grows Native Birds month and getting people excited about native plants and what they can do in their yards. At the end of the day, it’s really fun to learn more about the world around you. You can go for a walk in your yard, neighborhood or local park and see a lot of these different, cool ecological connections right in front of you. We invite as many people to come out, get involved, ask questions and enjoy the outdoors.”

To learn more about ways to support our local flora and fauna, check out the plethora of activities scheduled for September’s Georgia Grows Native for Birds month.

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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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