Your beloved relative is coming for the weekend: you tidy up the house (but not so much that it feels like a don’t-touch museum), you prepare a comfy bed, set out clean towels in a clean bathroom, and stock the fridge with favorite foods. So too for our distant kin, the birds: you provide bushes, trees, wood piles, or nesting boxes where they can safely rest. You keep your yard invitingly “messy” with the fallen leaves that encourage insects, yet also “clean” by avoiding pesticides and other chemicals. You let your yard fill with tasty treats, like caterpillars, seeds from native plants, nectar from native flowers, and in the coldest months, a well-stocked bird feeder. You leave some old trees standing for birds that eat tree-eating insects, like woodpeckers, and for the other birds that eventually use woodpecker holes for nesting. You’re good both to your human relatives and to your avian ones.
BUT your neighbors don’t get it. Human relatives? Fine. But they don’t understand why you leave flower stalks standing—they’re not familiar with overwintering insects. In fact, some of them don’t see much use for insects at all. They’re uncertain about what you’re up to (or not) with your yard, because to them your property seems a bit “unkempt.” They don’t realize that from the birds’ viewpoint, their yards are the problem. You’d like to help them see the world through birds’ eyes (a fascinating mental adventure!), but how can you start the conversation? You surely don’t want to open with an apology, like “Oh, hi. How’s your family? Sorry my yard looks sloppy.” Your yard is actually exemplary, so an apology isn’t right.
But an attractive, gently informative sign—that might spark a little conversation, which could lead to further helpful conversations. The language on a sign could help your neighbors recognize that your yard is intentional, ecologically beneficial, and well-tended. The sign subtly implies, “This is not at all a lazy yard. It’s a laudable yard!” Your neighbors might even be inspired to garden in a more environmentally friendly way themselves.
So what kind of sign? From where? An eco-yard recognition program is a great choice.
Our Bird Town website lists 10 different programs to consider from, from Audubon’s Backyard Habitat Program to the National Wildlife Federation’s Program to the Pollinator Pathway Program and more. Choose one or more that best fits your interests and makes sense for your yard. https://birdtownpa.org/backyard-habitat-programs/
Behavior-change research shows that when people see many others around them doing something, they begin to imagine themselves doing that same thing. Eventually, they take action in that group direction. Getting your yard recognized as eco-friendly guides you in simple steps to create a bird-friendly yard. Putting up a sign can give you a sense of pride, and the more people whose yards sport such signs, the more likely others will follow suit in living closer to the wild side.
Stay tuned for later issues of the Bird Town Flyer to learn about other yard recognition and certification programs.
Christine Du Bois – Buxbaum, Ph.D., Lansdowne Bird Town Coordinator of the Lansdowne Bird Town, provided the content for this article.