All across North America, one of the sure signs that spring is here is the return of migratory birds to our woods, meadows, and parks. Another is the return of gardeners and landscapers to their backyards. This year, the National Audubon Society is asking people to keep birds and wildlife in mind as they begin their spring planting.

The most significant factors in the decline of bird and wildlife populations are habitat loss and habitat degradation. About 2 million acres are converted to residential and commercial use in the United States each year. This means that many birds are losing many of the places they rely on for rest, food and rearing their chicks.

Fortunately, there are many ways to help make backyards, gardens and parks into healthy habitat for birds and other wildlife. By ensuring that the necessities for survival - food, water, nesting areas, and shelter - are available, people can temper the habitat loss caused by urban and suburban expansion.

Whether a person lives in an apartment building, a suburban subdivision, or on a country road, what they do to and with their outdoor space affects a larger ecosystem. What people do at home is directly connected to the health of our larger environment.

The Audubon At Home program urges people to take the following steps to help ensure a successful spring migration and provide safe habitat for our feathered friends, as well as other wildlife:

  • Eliminate or Reduce Pesticide Use - Nearly ¾ of all U.S. households use some type of pesticide, often unnecessarily. The vast majority of pesticides are toxic to species beyond the targeted pests. The use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, or other pesticides, potentially exposes birds, pets, and people to risk. By eliminating pesticides in their backyards, people can reduce the amount of toxins that can end up in streams, soil, food chains, and on children's hands.
  • Conserve Water - More than 7 billion gallons of water are used daily in the U.S. for outdoor purposes, mostly landscaping. Lawns require two-and-a-half to four times more water than shrubs and trees. By reducing the amount of lawn in a backyard and replacing some grass with shrubs and other plants native to the local area that require less water, people can significantly reduce the amount of water needed for landscaping.
  • Protect Water Quality – Storm water runoff, including runoff from backyards and gardens, which often includes chemical pesticides and fertilizers is a leading cause of pollution of the nation's waterways and water bodies. According to the EPA, approximately 40 percent of recently surveyed rivers, lakes, and estuaries have water quality problems. Plant choice, soil health, and the type of walkways, patios, and other landscaping features a person chooses can dramatically affect the amount of runoff a backyard or garden generates.
  • Remove Exotic Plant Pests - Purple loosestrife, English ivy, kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle - these and other familiar plants pose a growing threat to native wildlife. Invasive plants are typically defined as non-native species that compete vigorously with other species for space and resources, and consequently spread rapidly and take over habitat. Invasives are a growing problem. Invasive plant, animal, or microbial species contribute to the decline of approximately 42 percent of the plants and animals federally listed as endangered or threatened.
  • Plant Native Species - A native plant species is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, state, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions. Today, people everywhere are discovering the benefits of "going native," and native plant sources are becoming more numerous. Natives, after all, offer birds and other wildlife greater benefits than exotic cultivars, and without the exhaustive care requirements. By establishing native plants in their yard, people can decrease water dependence, reduce the need for fertilizer and pest control, and create a renewed sense of place for birds and other wildlife.

For more information on how to create a healthy yard and keep birds safe, visit the Audubon At Home website at To take Audubon's Healthy Yard Pledge, please visit Audubon At Home is funded in part by the National Resource Conservation Service.

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