Pennsylvania's Audubon At Home wants you to reconnect with nature.
The project's Bird Habitat Recognition program is encouraging state residents to contribute to bird conservation by transforming their private property into a natural habitat.
"The project is about taking individual conservation action that can sustain birds, wildlife and healthy habitats in our yards and neighborhoods," Audubon Pennsyl-vania Executive Director Phil Wallis said. "It's very significant to engage residents in the stewarding of their own immediate environment. The more we can do to help encourage that and to share knowledge on how to do that, the better off we'll be."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Juniata Valley Audubon Society president Terry Wentz shows his vernal pond on his Hollidaysburg area property. His property, part of the Audubon At Home program, also has wildflowers, which provide seeds for birds in the winter.
Any property, regardless of size, can be transformed into a valuable habitat and contribute to bird conservation, Wallis said. The process is simple: Begin planting native plants to provide food (insects and plant), cover and nesting sites; add a fresh water pond; then register your property with Audubon Pennsylvania through its Web site (pa.audubon.org/habitat/ index.html).
"Through birds, you have this portal to interest people in living more sustainably - a fun, exciting and non-threatening way to invite nature into your backyard," Wallis said. "Once kids and families get into this, they try and learn about all the different birds. The program expands the mind in many different ways."
Audubon At Home currently has more than 3,000 acres on 200 properties in 38 counties across Pennsylvania enrolled in the Bird Habitat Recognition program, Steve Saffier, Audubon At Home Coordinator for the Pennsylvania office of the National Audubon Society, said. The program is working to get to 1,000 homes by December 2010. To find out how your yard rates and whether you qualify for the program, visit the Web site. The program's fundamental idea is to transform a property from a sterile, chemical-bound monoculture to one that is a living component in the natural mosaic of Pennsylvan-ia's complex ecosystems, Saffier said, add-ing birds serve as visible indicators of en-vironmental vitality and well-being, while native plants provide the foundation.
Six principles of creating a bird habitat
Reduce pesticide use
Protect water quality
Remove invasive exotic plants
Plant native species
Support birds and other wildlife on property
"Birds are sensitive to changes in the environment. If they don't have proper resources, their numbers will drop off," he said. "Scientists have been able to track (environmental) trends according to bird numbers. ... A lot of birds pass Pennsyl-vania on migratory paths, and we need to create spaces on our properties to provide places for these birds to rest and refuel."
Attracting birds, insects and other wildlife is an admirable goal, but aiming to support them on your land will have greater and more sustainable outcomes, Saffier said.
This type of support requires the kind of plant diversity found in specific plant communities. In most parts of Pennsylvania and across its seven physiographic regions that often means a forest type. Learn about the forest types of your region and conditions of your property.
"Twenty-five percent of the woody plants (trees and shrubs) on your property need to be native - that is key," Saffier said. "Birds are naturally geared toward trees and shrubs. ... Insects are key to the food chain of birds, and native insects are attracted to native plants."
It's difficult in Pennsyl-vania to find a natural area or even private property that has not been invaded by an aggressive exotic plant, Terry Wentz, president of the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, said. There are more than 60 invasive exotic plants in the mid-Atlantic and they range from groundcover to trees and everything in between. The unbalanced deer population that finds most invasives unpalatable doesn't help and is also detrimental to the native plants in their futile effort to regenerate. Birds, addled with a selection often dominated by exotics, help spread the seeds. Replace exotic invasives with a native alternative. For a list of invasives, visit http:// www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic.
But in the end, it comes down to helping the birds.
"A lot of people who live in Blair County naturally love the outdoors and wildlife. And this is a nice way to attract and support that wildlife. ... We're also right under the migratory flyway, so that makes this is an ideal place to foster a bird habitat in our own backyards," Wentz said.
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.