2017-03-30 / Life in Leelanau

Be careful what you plant this spring, local birder says

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


LOSS OF habitat such as wetlands is the No. 1 reason for the reduction of bird populations. This picture was taken during a wetland hike at the Leelanau Conservancy’s Charter Bird Sanctuary which is preserved via a conservation easement. Photo credit: Leelanau Conservancy. LOSS OF habitat such as wetlands is the No. 1 reason for the reduction of bird populations. This picture was taken during a wetland hike at the Leelanau Conservancy’s Charter Bird Sanctuary which is preserved via a conservation easement. Photo credit: Leelanau Conservancy. The stark winter landscape is giving way to spring — the best time of year for bird-lover Kay Charter, the founder and executive director of Saving Birds Thru Habitat.

“During the winter, I’ll see 20 species at my feeders,” she said. “It’s my favorite time of the year, if winter doesn’t come back and kill all my birds.”

At the peak of bird activity in the summer, Charter has seen as many as 50 different species. But the number of species and types of birds glimpsed outside her window in Leelanau Township doesn’t necessarily reflect that seen elsewhere.

According to the 2016 State of the Birds Report, conducted by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, more than 430 species — ranging from Laysan Albatross to Red-headed Woodpecker, Bobolink to Allen’s Hummingbird — are listed in the report’s watch list, owing to troubling signs such as population loss, range reduction, and threats to habitat.


A COMMON Yellowthroat, a member of the warbler family, is pictured here with caterpillars for nestlings. This bird commonly nests in Leelanau County. Photo by: Doug Tallamy A COMMON Yellowthroat, a member of the warbler family, is pictured here with caterpillars for nestlings. This bird commonly nests in Leelanau County. Photo by: Doug Tallamy Included are popular families like orioles and warblers.

“The top reason for this is loss of habitat,” said Charter, who founded Saving Birds in 2001 with the goal of helping to improve habitat for migrating birds one backyard at a time.

Charter has been promoting the use of native trees, grasses and plants locally for more than a decade. She has also lectured all over the country.

“I’ll talk to anyone and everyone if it means saving birds,” she said.

According to the National Gardening Survey, Americans spent an estimated $36.1 billion on their gardens and lawns in 2015. But the native plants that host insects needed by the birds have taken a backseat to other plants.

Invasive plants like garlic mustard, Bradford pear and kudzu are also upsetting the ecological balance nationally.

During a recent trip, a beautiful, colorful plant caught the eye of Charter’s friend. And while pretty, the bird saver didn’t share her friend’s enthusiasm.

“It didn’t do anything for me, because it didn’t have what the birds need,” she said. “Many of these birds live only on one insect and with insufficient insects, there are no fledglings or fewer, underweight fledglings.”

After a long, drab, winter, county homeowners are itching to put something in the ground. Charter’s asks that you keep natives in mind.

“It’s great that your have an Irish rose in your garden, but try to incorporate native trees, grasses and flowers,” she said.

Charter will share more information about birds and habitat at her next speaking engagement scheduled for noon, April 12, in the lower level of the county government building. Registration is $10 and can be completed by calling the Leelanau Conservation District office at 256- 9783.

Also set for April is the Conservation District’s annual tree and plant sale featuring only native products.

Conifer seedlings, deciduous trees, shrub/small trees and beach grass are among the many available to order at www.leelanaucd.org. Deadline for orders is next Friday, April 7.

Orders are available for pickup on Friday, April 21.

Other threats to native birds

Rounding out the top three threats to the bird population are:

 Cats — According to the Smithsonian study, feral and “free ranging” cats claim between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds each year.

 Glass — The American Bird Conservancy estimates that up to a billion birds die in window glass collisions each year in the U.S.

Although most people have seen or heard a bird hit a window, they often believe it is an unusual event.

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