As part of Year of the Bird, we’re encouraging nature lovers around the world to take small but meaningful actions every month that benefit nature. In this spirit, here are 12 simple steps you can encourage your friends and family to take to make the world a better place for birds.
1. Fill your garden (or balcony) with native plants
By planting flowers and shrubs that are native to your country, you’re catering for native birds, while avoiding any problems with invasive species. Variety is key. Not only will birds feed on the plants themselves, but the more kinds of plant you introduce, the more species of insect they will attract – and the more birds you will see feasting on this deliciously varied buffet. Pesticides will kill off birds’ natural prey and poison the food chain, so instead, let the birds act as natural pest control.
2. Know what to do with a chick on the ground
We know it’s hard not to help a small, helpless bird outside of its nest. But you may be doing more harm than good. If the bird is hopping about, it’s likely to be a fledgling, being fed and watched over by nearby parents until it has learned to fly. If it’s definitely too young for that, try to put it back in its nest, if you can find it (and you can do so without damaging the nest). The parents won’t abandon the chick if it smells of humans – that’s just a myth. But if all else fails, the only place it should be taken away to is to an expert wildlife rehabilitation centre – don’t try to raise it yourself.
3. Stop your cat from catching birds
This is a controversial one. People love their cuddly, purring companions – but the truth is that they are instinctive predators, who could be killing up to 3.7 billion birds a year in the USA alone. Solutions range from putting a bell on your cat’s collar, to enclosing an area of garden for your cat to roam (a “catio”), to keeping your cat indoors altogether. It’s up to you, but these actions could save birds’ lives – and keep your cat safer, too.
4. Install a bird box
Modern buildings may be warmer and drier, but one thing they tend to lack is convenient nesting holes. Nest boxes are the perfect solution, and come in all shapes and sizes depending on the species you want to attract. They’re pretty simple to construct – but remember never to paint the insides. If you do, they may be too slippery for young birds to clamber out of when it’s time to fledge – and it may be toxic, too. And if you must paint the outside, keep it a light colour to reflect the sun’s heat – nobody wants to live in an oven…
5. Don’t feed birds bread
We’re sorry to ruin the age-old tradition of feeding bread to the ducks – but baked goods are no good for birds. Bread goes mouldy quickly, which can make birds ill. It’s also the ultimate “junk food”, filling their stomachs without giving them the nutrients they require. And if thrown into water, it can feed huge, unsightly algal blooms that suffocate all other wildlife. Luckily, seeds, dried oats and chopped fruit and nuts all make excellent alternatives.
6. Provide water
Ponds attract a great variety of wildlife, which in turn attract a wealth of fascinating bird species for you to enjoy from your window. But even a bird bath will work wonders, while providing countless photo opportunities for the keen bird photographer. It only needs to be a few centimetres deep for the birds to drink and bathe – just make sure to clean it out once a week with a stiff brush, and if cats are lurking, put the bath on a pedestal.
7. Take part in a local bird count
February saw two big citizen science events in the form of the Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), and the Great Backyard Bird Count, headed by Audubon. Ordinary citizens had great fun recording their local birds, while providing scientists with crucial information. And initiatives like this exist all over the world. There’s even a continent-wide one in the form of EuroBirdwatch, organised by BirdLife Europe and Central Asia.
8. Put up a bird feeder
You don’t need a garden or even a balcony for this – you can get bird feeders that stick to windows. They’ll certainly make birds’ lives better – but they’ll make your life far more exciting, too. Watch in amazement as epic scandals, feuds and romances worthy of a soap opera play out before your eyes. And it needn’t cost anything – you can even make a bird feeder from an empty plastic bottle (but remember to clean it out regularly).
9. Make your windows bird-safe
Nothing is more heartbreaking than hearing that familiar resonant boom, and running to find a dusty, bird-shaped imprint on your window. Sometimes the bird will survive – but often, it won’t. Windows appear invisible to birds, or reflect an inviting vista of trees. Some particularly belligerent birds will even fight their own reflection. But no matter the reason, disaster can be averted by putting stickers or decorations (or bird feeders!) on your windows.
10. Clean up litter
Birds become tangled in string, plastic bags and other refuse, which can either kill them outright, or make them easy pickings for predators. Some even build litter into the fabric of their nests, which can be deadly to nestlings. They will also eat small pieces of plastic, mistaking them for food – and feed them to their chicks, sometimes with devastating consequences. Which leads us to our next point…
11. Say no to one-use plastics
The island of South Georgia in the Atlantic Ocean is over 800 miles from the nearest land, but plastic is still being found there. Throughout the Pacific Ocean, albatross chicks are being brought up in nests made of plastic. And a recent BirdLife expedition to the remote Mid-Atlantic Ridge discovered seabirds with stomachs stuffed full of this manmade polymer. Plastic litter gets washed down drains, or blown off landfill sites – the only solution is to use less of it.
12. Take your child birding
One moment in nature can spark a lifelong passion. Ask almost any bird lover how they got started, and they’ll be able to single out a special encounter – no matter how small – that really opened their eyes to birds. In today’s world, children are becoming increasingly separated from nature, and the health and happiness it provides. Be the one to change this trend. Inspire the young people in your life to become tomorrow’s conservationists, who will carry our love for birds into the next generation.
To find out more about Year of the Bird, and to read exclusive articles from BirdLife, Audubon, National Geographic and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, visit www.birdyourworld.org