Be Your Own Conservationist

Be Your Own Conservationist

Courtesy of Max Pixel.

The concept of conservation is not new in the least, but its necessity is more keenly felt in current times. It’s not only governments and scientists who can swing the pendulum back in the right direction; the truth is we can all take small yet hugely significant steps to help out birds and other wildlife.

In ecology terms, conservation is the practice of protecting the natural environment and its resources so that current and future generations of all living things can continue to benefit from them.

The conservation movement gained huge popularity in the 19th century in the United States when Theodore Roosevelt created the country’s first National Parks to provide protection from overdevelopment, but the concept of conservation has been held by many civilisations for centuries, maybe even a few millennia.

Hunting and fishing activities on all continents have long been traditionally “closed down” at set points in a natural yearly cycle to allow wildlife populations time to recover their numbers; forests have been painstakingly tended and replanted after devastating storms by tribespeople of the Amazon, and ancient Indian literature is packed full of references to managing and protecting the environment.

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Looking after an entire planet can seem like a daunting prospect, and it can sometimes feel that protecting something so big can only be done by enforcing huge societal and financial measures only possible by governments and scientists, but the basic principles of conservation can be practised by anyone in their own homes.

There’s only so many times we can continue to be surprised about something we should have learnt by now.

If the majority of us all followed a few simple steps then it wouldn’t be long before a large chunk of our world was already looked after.

Bird balance

One of the most important things is maintaining the stability of the environment that already exists. Hindsight is a perfect lens, but there’s only so many times we can continue to be surprised about something we should have learnt by now.

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When the early voyagers took to the seas with their mouser cats and rats on board, perhaps they weren’t to know what would happen to the peaceful animal-filled lands of the distant shores once those alien creatures got loose, and that thousands of years of species development and evolution away from predators could be undone in just a few years of hungry rampage.

A bug-free garden will ultimately create a bird-free habitat.

But now that we are aware of the effect of introducing non-native species, we can take those lessons and apply them everywhere else.

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Any outdoor space that you have and the environmental niche that you occupy should be viewed as a microcosm. Try to get into the habit of considering the effect of what may happen if you were to introduce an animal or species of plant that wasn’t normally found there, or what may happen if you were to remove any animals or plants that have been there all along.

Those are the first steps to critically and correctly assessing how you can practice conservation in your own space.

Get messy

If you don’t already have one, create a bird-friendly habitat in your backyard by “letting it go”, i.e., let things get a bit wild and gnarly out there. If you can’t stand mess, then confine it to a section of your garden at least, but the main thing you’re trying to do here is promote biodiversity.

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Many different types of plant such as clover, dandelion, cornflower, asters, sunflower, and so on are natural sources of food for so many birds and are perfect for pollinators like bees, bee-flies, hoverflies, butterflies, and moths.

A range of plants can provide different things, too – hiding places away from predators, nest-building sites, and shade on hot days, shelter on stormy ones.

Talk to your local nursery about which plants are native to your area and plant some out if you don’t already have them.

Different layers provide different things – shrubs are superb for ground-feeding and nesting birds, hedges become sprawling metropolises for many types of songbirds, and trees offer sanctuary to all size and type of bird, all there to fill some sort of niche purpose.

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Woodpeckers are primary cavity nesters and are among the most beneficial birds to have around, as the nest sites they construct provide countless organisms with somewhere to live long after they’ve bred and moved out.

Chemical warfare

One of the main threats to a stable environment that has been seen on a global scale are the use of insecticides and pesticides. You may recall from your time at school the concept of the food chain, how every organism in a parcel of land has a dependency on something else there too.

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It’s now widely accepted that many types of lawn and garden chemicals can be harmful to birds, as these are aimed at the animals or plant life that are a food source for birds, so insectivores or seed eaters will also ingest those toxic chemicals.

The “mystery illness” that began in Spring 2021 and rapidly swept through parts of the US killing thousands of birds is, at the time of writing in August 2021, thought to be linked to pesticides absorbed by the emerging cicadas in those regions that the birds were feeding on.

Window collisions kill thousands of birds every year, but it doesn’t have  to be that way.

We can understand the aesthetic appeal of the perfect manicured lawn, but it’s important to realise that a bug-free garden will ultimately create a bird-free habitat. Speak to someone at your local garden centre or take a look online at some wildlife-friendly, pesticide-free gardening methods.

Courtesy of JillianCain, Canva.

For example, ants can be the bane of many a homeowner, as they can chew through practically anything and enter your house. However, they are the perfect food for many a bird and our friends the woodpeckers love them.

If you want to see more woodpeckers but keep ants away from your house, know that ants do not like certain plants or items like cinnamon, coffee grounds, chili pepper, paprika, cloves, or dried peppermint leaves; you can also squeeze lemon juice and leave the peel or place cloves of garlic at any observed points of entry. Planting mint around your house also keeps ants away.

Window of opportunity

Inside the home, think about how your windows look to the birds on the outside. Window collisions kill thousands of birds every year, but it doesn’t have[S1]  to be that way and is possibly one of the most preventable situations we can influence.

Bird imprint on window. Courtesy of Ted, Wikimedia Commons.

To birds, windows can look simply like nothing at all, or can reflect their environment back at them, offering illusory landscapes of just somewhere else to fly towards. Breaking up that invisible or reflective but deadly, hard surface with a few simple objects can save lives.

You can buy bird collision deterrents like decals or stickers that you can fix directly to the glass, or hang some beads on strings. You don’t need to completely black everything out or obscure your own view, just taking a few simple steps to give the birds something to pay attention to as they approach that will show them things may not be as they seem.

It has also been shown that migrating birds are attracted to lights at night and will divert from their journey to find the source. Make sure you turn lights off at night or draw the curtains, or drop the blinds.

Make it count

Another way you can help conserve the birds that doesn’t involve altering your own home and garden set-up but is equally important is taking part in bird counts.

Many bird counts take place on the same day or at the same time of year each year, and everyone is invited to take part. Contributing your time, often only as little as one hour per count, will help so many scientists understand how bird populations are faring in these times. It can be a great family activity or do it on your own if you prefer.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You don’t have to be an ornithologist, either, just some basic knowledge so you can ID the birds you see, and even then, there are ample online resources to help out there, too. Most organisations holding the bird counts provide free activity packs full of information and instructions to help you all along.

Conservation is necessary to ensure we all live in a healthy and functional world, and birds contribute in more ways than you’ll ever realise to helping maintain that health.

Courtesy of Sen Yang, Canva.

By creating a habitat right where you live that helps your local birds and any passing migrants live out their lives with food, water and shelter where they need it, and removing any obstacles in their way, you are actively and positively affecting the world we all have to share.

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