Can the Birds Count on You???

Audubon's Call to its Christmas Bird Count
Folks have been counting birds for decades, but can the birds count on you... to provide habitat filled with native plants that provide food, shelter, and places to raise their young?

This is the 111th year that Audubon Society has organized its Christmas bird count. This definitive data shows without a doubt that our native bird populations have decreased dramatically over the decades. Most of the declines are due to decreased habitat, but we are not helpless and we can all do much more than wring our hands in dismay.

Slide from Greg Braun's habitat presentation

Greg Braun from Audubon of Martin County in south Florida created a slide show which illustrates specific examples of how and why people of south Florida can make a significant difference for their birds. 

An important book that makes THE case for more native plants in the landscape for wildlife is Doug Tallamy's "Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens." As our friend Ellen Honeycutt, an active member of the Georgia Native Plant Society, says, “People all over the country are reading this book and smacking their heads while thinking: ‘Of course, it all makes perfect sense now!’ “ You can purchase this book, which we have listed over in the right hand column along with our other favorites--just click the covers to link to Amazon. (When you purchase books here, FNPS receives a small referral fee.)
A little green heron in our front pond.
Supplying water is part of habitat building.

My personal experience in Florida habitat building goes back to 2004 when my husband and I moved to Florida and bought a house on a 1.5 acre lot with a good-sized natural pond in the front and a 110-acre lake out back. Much of the land had been cleared and sodded with St. Augustine and poisoned regularly by the previous owner. We stopped all poisoning right away and let some big patches of lawn go to meadow such as the area on the far side of the pond and on top of the septic tank drainfield mound where the grass was not doing well at all. Since then we have been reducing the rest of lawn area little by little and removing invasive plants.

Early in 2006, I applied for backyard habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation and we are now habitat #59063. I hung the sign out front so the neighbors might be inclined to become certified as well. We are not in a restrictive HOA neighborhood and I know of several neighbors who have also certified their yards. I wrote about this process in Creating Backyard Habitat. Since then we have enjoyed a tremendous variety of bird visitors--it's always interesting.

Here this red shouldered hawk
captured a mole from the front
yard and was probably the one 
that took the wrens.
One of the requirements for certifying habitat is to provide places to rear young and we have hosted several bird families in areas close to the house. Cardinals have nested in both of our trellised vines next to the screened porch out back, but the wrens have gotten even closer. These five Carolina wrens were reared in our wicker planter on the front porch. This was great fun since we could watch up close from our front window as the parents made hundreds of forays out to the front meadow area for bugs every day. These babies never fledged, though, because the red shouldered hawk needed food for its own babies. When your yard can support a top predator like a hawk, you know you've been successful. We cheer for the predators.

A pair of pileated woodpeckers on our redbay trees,
which are now gone, because of that dreadful fungus.
See Red Bay Trees are Dying
There's a good-sized beautyberry that I can see from my office. I've made a partial list of visitors to this popular shrub this winter: cardinals, cedar waxwings, mockingbirds, blue birds, white-eyed vireos, yellow-rumped warblers, titmice, king birds, fly catchers, gold finches, blue jays, sparrows, and more that I couldn't quickly ID. Now all those beautiful purple berries are gone and I'll work to encourage more of these bird magnets in our yard. (See Sue Dingwell's post: American Beautyberry: Purple Now!

Our most recent bird adventure was seeing a woodcock! Last week as we were finishing dinner, I saw an animal rooting around in the backyard, but because it was getting dark I couldn't figure what it was--a squirrel without a tail? a bunny digging a hole?? It was not too far from the house, but with binoculars I could see that it was a bird, which I then identified as a woodcock! My husband had seen one earlier in the week down by the lake, but thought it was a shore bird. A new bird for both of us. Since then we've seen a single woodcock several times in the back yard and once we saw two woodcocks fly in at one time. I was prepared with a camera, but the light was too low for any type of photo with our point & shoot camera--even with a flash. They do a little wooble each time they stab their long bills into the lawn. Cute!

Woodcock--photo from Wiki-commons
American woodcocks (Scolopax minor), sometimes called timberdoodles, are nocturnal birds about 11" long and have short legs compared to shore birds. They are well camouflaged and rarely seen. According to, these birds look for damp spaces in young forests with open areas. Our property provides perfect habitat for woodcocks. There is a wooded area along one side of our property in a natural drainage area from the pond out front down to the lake out back. This area is a shallow ravine about 40' wide and 450' long with mostly mature sweet gum and pine trees growing there with an understory of palmettos, beautyberry, and inkberry and several types of ferns growing as groundcover. Then our un-poisoned lawn provides open space with plenty of worms and grubs for all the birds, woodcocks included. Much of the best woodcock habitat has disappeared over the years. It pleases me that our property management techniques can provide much-needed habitat for the woodcocks and all the other birds. See more details on Of Timberdoodles and Ecotones.

Audubon runs a Christmas bird count each year in December and January, so it's not too late to participate. See Audubon's bird count website for more information. The Green Blog on the NYTimes also posted an article about the importance of the annual bird count.

Ginny Stibolt


Luciane Moraes said…
I really like your blog!


Ginny Stibolt said…
Thanks for writing and Merry Christmas to you!

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