By Jared Teutsch, Executive Director
Millions of people enjoy watching birds every day. From those who enjoy birds at their backyard feeders to those who attend birding field trips in our parks and greenspaces, to the more hardcore birders who travel the U.S. and the world adding to their “life lists”, birdwatching is accessible to everyone, virtually everywhere.
At Georgia Audubon, we believe birds are a catalyst for conservation. They are also in trouble. A recently released study published in the journal Science revealed that nearly three billion birds —or one in four birds— have disappeared from our landscape in the past 50 years. Habitat loss and degradation are two of the leading causes for this decline. Nowhere is this more evident than in metro Atlanta. Not only are we losing habitat at an alarming rate, but the habitat that we still have is being degraded rapidly, losing the ability to support the full life cycle of many bird species. The decline of even common species, including our state bird, the Brown Thrasher, indicates a general shift in our ecosystems’ ability to support basic birdlife.
Improving our landscapes, both at home and across the city, is the most effective way to provide quality habitat for birds and other pollinators. And the most effective way to improve landscapes for birds is to remove exotic, invasive species and replace them with native plants. Birds and native plants go together thanks to millions of years of coevolution. Native plants produce fruits and flowers on which birds feed, and, in return, birds spread the plant’s seeds and pollen far and wide, supporting an entire ecosystem. It’s a win-win.
Native plants are also important hosts for protein-rich native insects, like caterpillars, which nesting birds need to feed their growing chicks. More than 96 percent of land birds feed insects and spiders to their chicks. In fact, a single nest of Carolina Chickadee babies will need as many as 9,000 caterpillars in order to fledge. Native tree species are better for birds because they host many more caterpillars. For example, a native oak supports more than 550 kinds of butterflies and moths, whereas a non-native Ginkgo tree supports only five. That’s a big difference, and a great reason to only plant native trees in our greenspaces.
In addition, the fruit of many native plants ripens at the same time migratory birds are passing through, providing a high-fat, nutritional food source to help birds complete their migratory journeys. Learning to identify and taking steps to remove the most common non-native invasive plants, like English ivy and Chinese privet, and replacing these with native plants is an affordable and attractive way to invite bird life and other wildlife into your landscape.
Georgia Audubon is building places where birds and people thrive. Recognizing the inherent connection between native plants and birds, Georgia Audubon has been restoring bird-friendly habitat across the metro area and beyond at places like Emma Wetlands of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, Little Creek Horse Farm, Zonolite Park, Piedmont Park, Historic Washington Park, Panola Mountain State Park, and Deepdene, part of Olmsted Linear Park. Through a new partnership with Chattahoochee RiverLands and the Trust for Public Land, we’re working at five different sites that will be part of a camp and paddle trail. When complete, the trail will allow people to paddle from Standing Peachtree Park in Atlanta to McInstosh Reserve in Carroll County and camp along the way. With the Chattahoochee being an incredibly valuable resource for migratory birds, Georgia Audubon is excited to be able to provide habitat restoration and improvement services through this initiative.
In addition, our Wildlife Sanctuary Program is certifying residential properties and greenspaces across the metro area. Through our new large property certification program and a unique partnership with the Georgia Forestry Foundation’s Birding Access Permit Program, we are working to build high-quality habitat for birds that will also provide recreational value for people who enjoy watching them.
Taken together, these programs will increase the amount of high-quality native habitats for our birds, pollinators, and other wildlife and build healthy, resilient ecosystems that are good for birds and people, too.
Leave a comment