D. Lopez, This Week in the Garden

Sometime last year, a message came to me from a member of the organization Two Thirds for the Birds. Based out of New York, the organization has the simple goal of encouraging gardeners and landscapers to commit to planting native plants that support birds. Its motto: Healthy Landscapes, Healthy Birds, Healthy Us.

Signing on simply means a commitment to planting two native plants for every three planted, remove invasive plants, and use no pesticides. Why? According to the organizers, “North America has lost close to 3 billion birds since the 1970s, almost a third of the entire bird population.”

Community built with expert advisement, the organization has a website, www.234birds.org, with gardeners, educators and institutions signing on to the commitment of restoration. The aim is to create habitats for birds and bugs that are appropriate for your region. If you are not certain where to begin in the garden, there are referrals online and in our towns to help you take your first steps.

Not everyone wants a web address to figure these things out. The first step is to locate master gardening programs, arboretums that showcase local flora, consult local horticulture experts or even connecting with natural history hubs. Most of my findings have been by reaching out to local ecologists, conservationists and researchers. When gathering plant information, I always ask what wildlife they host.

The goal doesn’t have to meet the expectation of becoming an expert gardener, birder or botanist. Rather, the goal is to find ways to avoid suppressing nature and enjoying it. The organization suggested chemical free practices that include: “Feed the soil and its biome, not the plants; close the loop–keep all biomass on the property–give your plants the food they made for themselves: be creative with compost, reduce the load on our landfills and the release of greenhouse gasses. Water very seldom, water very deep. Leave dead wood whenever possible – it is an endangered micro habitat. Avoid shearing and pruning – every cut is a wound. Spend time in your landscape not fussing, just observing. Let’s go.”

Some of you will find all of this less involved work in the garden disappointing. The garden is your personal investment. Ironically, you might enjoy that native plants have far less gardening struggles than exotic plants. A big relief. This also doesn’t mean one should stay away from the garden so the birds will arrive or that plants should never be watered when they seem to need help. The biggest effort will be to tend to the soil. Soil management and biome support is by far the most important key to successful gardening of any type.

What can be discovered. Over time, a wild garden becomes shaped and trimmed by wildlife: bugs, mammals, birds. Once acclimatated, plants develop a healthy immune system, fostered by their own mulch-making. A wild garden can become lush, and floral, even in winter. Plants like Toyon (Heteromeles arbuifolia) burst into bright red berries just in time for feeding winter birds.

Wild gardens attract birds immediately. First the passerines (songbirds/perching birds) arrive, then larger species follow. If there is a bench for sitting still in the garden, the birds will also become accustomed to the humans that live there too. This year has been one of the best for bird appearances in all parts of our garden.

Although I could barely consider myself a birder, through iNaturlist I have had numerous birds on the property identified for me. The birds that show up to visit my native plants include: crowned sparrows, wrens, brown creepers, pygmy nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, flycatchers, lesser goldfinches, white-tailed kites, great horned owls, night herons, belted kingfishers, great blue herons, turkey vultures, red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, violet-green swallows, Anna’s hummingbirds, Allen’s hummingbirds, mourning doves, house finches and more.

All of these species arrived when my native plants reached maturity in the garden. There is food and shelter for pollinators as well.

Two Thirds for the Birds is a not a commercial enterprise, it is a community and a movement. The organization does not ask for donations, or for your personal information. Instead the organization is an action plan and educational solution to the decline of birds and their native habitats. It begins with native plants. If you have a moment, check the online calendar for events.

Reputable allies and ones I’ve never heard of are also worth investigating, such as Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Native Plant Trust, Homegrown National Park, Birding Man Adventures and many more. Frankly, I signed on. Planting two native plants for every three, no pesticides or invasive plants? Easy.

I’m keeping my giant sunflowers this year, but next year I’ll find a native sunflower species.

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