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For the Birds

Wed, 04/03/2024 - 11:41


Everyone on Instagram this week is posting snapshots of garden projects — hacking back overgrown butterfly bushes that will cast too much shade on the patio come July, aerating their lawn, snipping April camellias to fill a vase. Spring is here and our gaze turns toward the window, our attention refocusing out of doors.

This is a good moment to take a breath and consider the poor birds.

In case you hadn’t noticed, habitats on the South Fork for birds of all feathers are under life-or-death pressure. Our woods in East Hampton are falling at a cataclysmic pace to invasive pests and overdevelopment. Monoculture, especially in the form of green-giant arborvitae for screening hedges and the homogenous green lawn, is depleting birds’ sources of sustenance and shelter. And pesticide spraying for ticks and mosquitoes is killing the beneficial creepers and crawlers that beautiful songbirds, woodpeckers, flickers — so many precious species, in which we all take so much delight — eat.

There are things we can do to help the birds. Here are a few.

Browsing through the nurseries is one of life’s great pleasures, but as you peruse potential spring plantings, be conscious of which purchases might provide food for future generations of birds. Think native plants, and berries. Birds love berries, like bayberries, for example. Ask the staff for advice. If you’re in the market to add a tree to your property, reconsider the unfashionable oak; oaks are of extreme value to wildlife, not just for the acorns but because they create a caterpillar buffet.

Let your yard remain a little messier, a little longer into the spring. Don’t call the lawnmower man just yet, and don’t be in a rush to rake, blow, or scrape every single leaf away! The untidy detritus of twigs and long grasses? Leave it be for another few weeks, so birds can use the windfall for the building of nests. Your neighbors might be annoyed, but they’ll get over it. End of April and beginning of May is also the moment when migratory birds pass through the East End in huge numbers. They will bless your mess.

Consider that if, anticipating a summer of outdoor barbecues and snoozes beside the rose bush, you choose to spray your property for ticks in spring, you are also spraying insecticide on nests full of newly hatched baby birds, as well as killing the caterpillars their mothers feed them. Better to buy a bottle of permethrin, to spray your own clothing or picnic blankets, than do a wholesale spraying of animal and bird habitat.

Finally, if you have a bad case of spring fever and are just itching to redo your garden with new design features, consider splashing out on a water feature. Birds love moving water. Maybe a fountain or bird bath? “For the birds” is the perfect nursery shopping excuse.


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