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Welcoming the Jewels of Spring

Each of us can take simple steps to protect and preserve local wildlife.

Posted: February 21, 2008 6:08 p.m.
Updated: April 23, 2008 5:04 a.m.
 
The little jewels of spring have started a new generation in my yard. Yes, already hummingbirds are nesting. During the last few weeks we watched one hummer collecting nesting material. They like to use spider webs, lichen and other plant material. Now two beautiful bean-sized eggs sit perfectly in her tidy little nest.

I had been observing another female hummingbird buzzing around. We investigated further and found her perfect nest with fuzzy little babies cuddled together with their beaks peaking out.

Their nests are difficult to spot. They are well camouflaged and look like a notch on a branch.

The females are busy eating, one feeding three! Many of us don't realize that hummingbirds not only feed on nectar, but love to eat small insects like aphids, gnats and spiders. Nature's way!

Here are some things that we can all do to make our gardens friendly for hummingbirds and other native birds.

Create habitat
Creating a garden that welcomes songbirds, hummingbirds and butterflies is a relatively simple task. It consists of supplying them with three basic requirements for survival: food, cover, and water. Natural food sources are always better then putting up feeders.

The Theodore Payne Foundation located in Sun Valley is a great source for native plants. You can contact them at 818-768-1802 or visit their Web site, http://www.theodorepayne.org.

Bird baths and water fountains attract many birds; you will need to keep them clean. If you you put up seed feeders, keep them clean and pick up fallen seed so as to not attract non-native, unwanted rodents. Sugar water feeders must be kept meticulously clean; just a little mold will hurt your neighborhood hummers and songbirds that enjoy the sweet drink. They should be cleaned thoroughly every two or three days.

Don't forget to create safe habitat for lizards; they do a great job of gobbling up insects!

Trim Trees and Bushes
Major bush and tree trimming should be done in late fall or early winter to protect springtime nests. Birds have survived by finding a way to camouflage their nests. Females are generally very dull in color compared to their colorful mates, blending into their environment.

If you need to trim during the spring, do so very carefully and by hand if possible.

Eliminate Yard Poisons
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the following quotation, from Rachel Carson's 1962 book "Silent Spring," on its Web site pertaining to the use of poison: "There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example - where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was spring without voices."

Rachel Carson introduced her classic book about the perils of pesticides with those observations in a chapter she called "A Fable for Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow" has arrived. Now, no one would think of using DDT to kill garden insects.

Yet we assume that the lawn and garden chemicals found on the shelves at hardware stores are safe to use around birds (and people.) Take a close look at the labels. Too many popular pesticides are lethal to birds.

For alternatives, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Web site at http://library.fws.gov/Bird_Publications/songbird.html#Eliminate.
There is no safe form of rodent poisoning. Rodent poisoning is a threat to our native wildlife, pets and our children. Hawks and owls often eat the poisoned rodents and then die themselves. The poison may continue to move through native wildlife populations, killing everything that touches it for a long time before it dissipates. For additional information, visit the American Birds Conservancy Web site at http://www.abcbirds.org/index.html.

Keep Cats Indoors
This is a sensitive issue but one that has to be addressed.

Cat predation numbers are staggering. Americans keep an estimated 60 million cats as pets. Let's say each cat kills only one bird a year. That would mean that cats kill more than 60 million birds (minimum) each year. University of Wisconsin ornithologist Dr. Santley Temple estimates that 20 million to 150 million songbirds are killed each year by rural cats in Wisconsin alone.

Feline predation is not "natural." Cats were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians and taken throughout the world by the Romans. Cats were brought to North America in the 1800s to control rats. The "tabby" that sits curled up on your couch is not a natural predator and has never been in the natural food chain in the Western Hemisphere.

De-clawing cats and putting bell collars on them do not prevent them from killing birds and other small animals. For healthy cats and wild birds, cats should not be allowed to roam free.

Reduce Window Collisions
In the United States alone, Dr. Dan Klem of Muhlenberg College estimates that each year during migration, up tp 98 million million birds fly full tilt into windows and are fatally injured. Bird-window collisions also occur during the breeding season and winter.

Klem says we can minimize these collisions by breaking up the reflection on the outside of the window with a non-reflective window coating, window screens, flash tape and bird netting.

Planting trees and installing window awnings to block the sun from hitting the window may eliminate some reflection. Putting a bird feeder on or within a few feet of a window helps to slow birds down and lessen the effect of impact.

Here are a few simple ideas that have worked in our backyard: We hang flowering pots, wind chimes and a hummingbird feeder in front of our windows to break up the reflection.

Get Involved
Speak out to your friends, neighbors and homeowners' associations. Get children involved through scout, school and youth-group activities.

Work with politicians and businesses to develop conservation strategies that will benefit birds and people who live in your community.

Become politically aware and active and let your voices be heard.

Join local organizations that work to protect our environment. Some local groups are the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, Friends of the Santa Clara River, the Sierra Club and SCOPE (Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment).

And, finally, enjoy.

Teresa Savaikie is a Santa Clarita Valley resident, local environmentalist and mother of three. "Environmentally Speaking" runs Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local writers. Savaikie's column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.



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