Bird-Friendly Arkansas Certification Program

Birds need our help! A comprehensive assessment of net bird population changes in the United States and Canada recently revealed that they are down by 2.9 billion breeding adults. Forests have lost 1 billion birds, and grasslands three quarters of a million. Even “common” birds like White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Red-winged Blackbirds have suffered losses in the millions. This is a 30% drop since 1970. There is an urgent need to address threats to birds, not only to avert the risk of extinction but also to avoid the subsequent unraveling of ecosystems.

What are the causes of this decline?

  • The single biggest cause is habitat loss. More than a third of North America is no longer habitat for the species it once supported. We have drastically reduced the amount of woodlands and grasslands. Native plants play an important role in providing the food and cover birds need to survive and thrive in a way that non-native plants cannot. 
  • An estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds die from collisions with windows across the U.S. The overwhelming majority of these window strikes occur at low-rise buildings, including residences. Skyscrapers cause fewer than 1% of deaths.
  • Outdoor cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds in the U.S. These killers are not only feral cats, but also pet cats that spend time outdoors.Air, water, and noise pollution also affect birds, from preventing them from communicating and mating (noise), to killing them with pollutants (air and water).
  • Light pollution belongs in its own separate category because it harms not only non-migrating nocturnal birds such as owls, but also the over 4 billion birds that migrate across the United States, most of which migrate at night. It’s not only bad, it’s getting worse.

But we can do something about these dangers by acting individually and collectively! The Arkansas Audubon Society seeks to inspire Arkansans to care about birds and their habitats, the threats they face, and their connections to us. One of the ways we educate Arkansans about birds and promote the conservation of birds is by certifying bird-friendly properties.

We offer three programs: Bird-Friendly Yards, Bird-Friendly Businesses, and Bird-Friendly Places of Worship, which address eliminating hazards and improving bird habitat. Certified properties are entitled to appropriate signage indicating their status as bird-friendly and listing on a map and in our newsletter. Businesses and places of worship are also entitled to being promoted on our website and Facebook page—in other words, free advertising!

Our three certification programs are based on completing actions in specific categories.

Plant Natives and Remove Invasives

Native plants are those that occur naturally in an area. They have co-evolved for thousands of years along with other native plants and animals to survive in a particular geographic area’s climate, soils, and rainfall. Because they are indigenous to our region, Arkansas’s native plants usually tolerate natural cycles of drought and rain and have myriad specialized relationships with native wildlife, serving an important role in the local ecosystem.

Our native birds and other wildlife have adapted to the resources provided by Arkansas’s native plants. The plants provide the leaves, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds, and nuts that wildlife require to survive and thrive. Crucially, native plants host the insects that birds need. Ninety percent of all insects are specialized, meaning they share an evolutionary history with a comparatively few native plants and rely on them to survive. For example, Monarch butterflies must have milkweed plants on which to lay their eggs. And Monarch caterpillars must have milkweed plants to eat. If a yard has no milkweeds, it will have no Monarch caterpillars. (Loss of milkweed plants is the main reason Monarch populations are declining so precipitously.) 

Almost all land birds require insects to feed their young. Even seed-eating birds, such as Northern Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees, feed their babies insects to ensure their survival. Most insects cannot adapt to eating non-native plants. Fewer native plants results in fewer insects, which in turn means fewer baby birds growing to adulthood. It takes 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to feed a brood of baby chickadees to the point where they leave the nest!

In contrast, lawns typically contain only one or very few types of non-native grasses that most animals do not consume, so they do not provide much value for wildlife. Lawns also require a lot of water, chemicals, and mowing to maintain. Replacing lawns with native grasses, wildflowers, bushes, and trees provides the food, shelter, and cover that help maintain healthy, natural ecosystems.

Not all non-native, ornamental plants are bad for wildlife. Some even provide pollen and nectar. However, others are highly invasive, vigorously growing and spreading, escaping from gardens, and displacing native plants in both urban and natural areas. These should be removed and kept at bay to the best of your ability. Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese wisteria, nandina/sacred bamboo, Bradford pear, and Johnsongrass are among the worst. Herbicides can be a valuable tool for removing invasives but only when used properly.

Remove Hazards

Each year a billion birds die in collisions with glass. Windows reflect the environment around them, so the trees and shrubs in your yard will be what a bird sees in your windows. Many birds that fly off after hitting a window later die of internal injuries. A variety of window treatments are available that will make your windows more visible to birds and prevent them from smashing into them. Strings and decals should be placed no further than two inches apart to prevent birds from attempting to fly between them. If you attract birds to your property by providing native plants, water, or feeders research shows you may actually be creating a deqth trap if you do not make your windows visible to birds.

House cats are popular pets and an integral part of many households. However, cats are not native wildlife, and they are efficient predators. Each year in the U.S. outdoor cats kill more than a billion birds. Keeping cats indoors protects both your cat and wildlife. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives.

Pesticides kill more than pests. Birds can be poisoned when they eat insects and rodents that have ingested pesticides. Beneficial insects such as native bees can also become unintentional victims. Use chemicals sparingly, in a targeted fashion, and according to manufacturers’ labels. Consider alternative pest controls such as horticultural oils and soaps. Purchase native plants from native plant sellers who refrain from the use of neonicotinoids.

Lights at night can confuse migrating birds. Turning off outdoor lights or directing them downward and shading indoor windows during migration helps birds and reduces energy use. Doing the same the rest of the year helps nocturnal birds like owls, as well as other types of wildlife.

Supply Basic Needs

Birds need places to hide to feel safe from people, predators, and inclement weather. Native vegetation is the perfect cover for wildlife. Shrubs, thickets, and brush piles provide great hiding places within their bushy leaves and thorns. Evergreens give year round cover. Even dead trees work, as they are home to insects that birds eat, and offer cavities for nesting and branches for perching. If natural options aren't available for you, install a birdhouse designed for the types of birds you wish to attract. Protect boxes using predator guards, evict House Sparrows and European Starlings, and clean out boxes before and after the nesting season. 

All birds need clean water year-round for drinking and bathing. If you are not lucky enough to have a natural water source on your property, offer a bird bath or build a pond. Small birds require shallow water, only an inch or so. Keep your bird bath filled and clean; in hot weather especially, the water will dry up or grow algae. Use a scrub brush and an environmentally safe cleaner such as vinegar. Do not use bleach.

We feed birds for our enjoyment and to make them easier to watch. They do not require our feeders for survival, except perhaps in times of severe weather. It is critical that you keep bird feeders clean to reduce disease-causing bacteria. Clean feeders at least every two weeks, or more if seed is moldy or you see sick birds. Use hot soapy water or a weak vinegar solution. In the case of hummingbird feeders, the National Audubon Society recommends cleaning feeders twice per week in hot weather and once per week otherwise. Always use a hummingbird feeding solution of 1 part white table sugar to 4 parts water. 

Water capture with rain barrels will help to make more water available for birds in a sustainable fashion.

Build a brush pile to provide shelter for a variety of small animals as well as birds, especially during extreme weather.

Snags are dead standing trees .  Cavity nesting birds such as bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, owls, and woodpeckers nest in snags. They are insect magnets, providing food for woodpeckers and chickadees, to name just a few species. A few species store food in them. They are extremely important to birds as well as other wildlife.

Personal Actions

Did you know that coffee growing is erasing bird habitat? This is true not only for birds who are native to the tropics, but also for birds familiar to us—warblers and thrushes as well as others—that winter in the tropics. Bird-friendly coffee is shade-grown under native canopy trees and preserves bird habitat. 

Plastic is made from fossil fuels and does not biodegrade, thus will literally last forever, polluting the environment and breaking down into microplastics and contributing to the death of wildlife. There are multiple ways to reduce plastic use and waste in our daily lives.

Businesses can contribute to sustainability and the environment in countless ways. Here are just a few: purchasing recycled office materials and practicing recycling; reducing energy consumption; and rewarding office behaviors like carpooling, or bicycling to work. Eliciting and being responsive to employee suggestions for environmentally-friendly practices is a good way to build employee morale while simultaneously helping the environment.

Community Science (formerly called Citizen Science) activities are those involving the public in scientific research. They don’t require a scientific background. Such activities exist at local, state, and national levels. Many such activities involve birds, like the Christmas Bird Count, Feederwatch, and the Great Backyard Bird Count. Others involve Monarch butterflies and native bees. There’s a community science project for everyone no matter what their interests. 

Audubon Delta and Arkansas Audubon Society are both nonprofits that work to protect birds. Contributions made to them are used both to protect birds and to educate the public about the need to do so.

There is much to learn about birds and providing safe, healthy habitat for them.
We encourage you to also learn from experts in the classroom and in the field. Attend programs and field trips offered by organizations such as Audubon chapters, the Arkansas Native Plant Society, and Arkansas Audubon Society. Join Arkansas Audubon Society and become part of our statewide birding community! If you are a business or place of worship, an AAS member will be happy to educate you and your employees or congregation on the need to restore our ecosystems and how we can do this, beginning in our yards and grounds, for free.


Help us spread the bird-friendly yard message. Whether you’re already certified or still working to become certified, you can be a model for others to take similar actions. Each of our individual actions in our own yards will add up to a large-scale positive impact for birds. Imagine how many more birds there would be if millions of yards across the country offered a safe, healthy environment.

Contact the AAS Bird-Friendly Yard Committee if you need resources for formal presentations.

 bfaudubon@gmail.com

Certification

Yards will be certified at two levels, Working to Become Certified, or Certified. The number of points you need to qualify for either level is indicated on the relevant form. Yard signs are available for each classification. Businesses may also receive decals, and free advertising in the AAS newsletter and on our website and Facebook page. Apply to certify as bird friendly.

 Apply for bird friendly certification.

Bird Friendly Arkansas Committee

  • Jack Stewart
  • Lynn Foster
  • Allan Mueller
  • Pam Stewart

Register Your Property

You may register at any time by completing and submitting the Application Form. Sending in the form registers you as a participant in the program regardless of the number of points earned
Participation in the program is free.  

Yard signs, decals, bumper stickers, an illustrated book, and other materials are available at cost.   Details on costs will be sent to you once your application is submitted.  If you need help when you apply, please contact us at:
bfAudubon@gmail.com

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