Gardening for wildlife enhances bird diversity beyond your own backyard

Households manage their yards in a variety of ways and new research has shown that their landscaping and management decisions have the potential to increase wild bird habitat and influence the biodiversity of birds in their yards as well as at the district and city level.

Across the United States, bird populations are declining due to declining habitat availability. Recently, a team of scientists explored the value of the largest green space found in cities – residential courtyards – as wildlife habitat. A new study, “Residential yard management and landscape coverage affects the diversity of urban bird communities across the continental United States,” was published this month in the journal Ecological applications. The research was co-led by USDA Forest Service research ecologist Susannah Lerman and postdoctoral researcher Desirée L. Narango of the City University of New York and the University of Massachusetts. Together with partners, they conducted observations of bird diversity in four types of residential yards and in nature parks in six cities with markedly different climatic conditions: Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, Florida; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; and Phoenix, Arizona. The researchers found similar patterns in all six cities; Although urban parks are home to more species of conservation concern (an official designation of species whose long-term persistence is in question) compared to courses, courses certified as wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation certification support a greater variety of bird species compared to more traditional backyard landscaping (eg, lawn-dominated backyards). This suggests that landscape management for wildlife can contribute to region-wide bird diversity. The study also took into account levels of public interest based on Google searches and bird sightings, and found that yards were home to more popular species than parks.

“This study shows that when people manage with wildlife in mind, households can contribute to conservation in their own backyards,” said Lerman, who works for the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “And our gardens are often home to some of our most beloved backyard birds.”

“Scientists are discovering that we cannot study cities in isolation. This will improve bird conservation efforts if we can understand which management practices are effective in regions and at the national level, and which are effective at a more local level, ”said Narango.

In addition to Lerman and Narango, co-authors include Meghan L. Avolio, Johns Hopkins University; Anika R. Bratt, Duke University and Davidson College; Jesse M. Engebretson, University of Minnesota; Peter M. Groffman, City University of New York and Cary Institute; Sharon J. Hall, Arizona State University; James B. Heffernan, Duke University; Sarah E. Hobbie, University of Minnesota; Kelli L. Larson, Arizona State University; Dexter H. Locke, USDA Forest Service; Christopher Neill, Woodwell Climate Research Center; Kristen C. Nelson, University of Minnesota; Josep Padullés Cubino, University of Minnesota and Masaryk University; and Tara LE Trammell, University of Delaware.

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Material provided by USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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