PALO ALTO, CALIF. — About a year and a half ago, I moved into a house on a busy street in the downtown area of this northern California city. The backyard, though graced by an old bay tree, was dirt and concrete, passed up by all but a passing scrub jay.
Under the direction of an architect, we set out to make the backyard into a bird-friendly habitat. We planted berry-growing shrubs like the toyon to attract thrushes, mockingbirds, and others. Hummingbirds were offered a wide variety of flowering plants such as fuchsia and honeysuckle. A sunken pump created a circulating stream of water that flows in nooks and pools over a large boulder. We hung a tubular feeder to provide sunflower seed for the seed-eaters. Finally, we mounted nesting boxes to offer protected breeding for cavity nesters such as titmice and chickadees.
Two springs later, the results are both amazing and gratifying. The garden sings from morning 'til night. Several species of warblers were frequent winter visitors, drawn by the water. Anna's hummingbirds utter their sharp rattle as they give chase from plant to plant, stopping only to bathe. Finches, doves, pine siskins, and many others crowd the feeder. And chickadees and titmice have raised families in our backyard.
Creating even small niches of bird habitat tops the list of recommendations for individual action given by George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy. He also suggests confining house cats (a major source of predation), drawing blinds or placing decals on windows to prevent bird collisions, and avoiding the use of lawn chemicals.
Mr. Fenwick also urges citizens to join local bird-conservation groups, participating in educational programs and volunteering to help during bird counts; to support a national organization to become informed; and to get involved in leading a local project to preserve a habitat or open space.
A few more suggestions:
* Create a backyard habitat: See "The Bird Garden" and "Concise Birdfeeder Handbook," National Audubon Society.
* Find local bird groups: Contact a local chapter of the National Audubon Society or the American Bird Conservancy (202-467-8348) or the American Birding Association (800-850-2473).
* Use bird-friendly products: Contact the ECO-OK Program (212-677-1900) or Sustainable Harvest (510-652-2100).
* Partners in Flight - www.pwrc.nbs.gov/pif/
* National Audubon Society - www.audubon.org
* All the breeding bird survey data - www.mbr.nbs.gov
* 'Where Have All the Birds Gone?' - John Terborgh, Princeton Univ. Press