Turf Wars, Part II

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In Turf Wars, Part 1, I began this series talking about the numerous harmful effects our lawns have on our environment, with a special focus on water issues.  Here, I’ll concentrate on why lawns are detrimental to birds and why this matters.

Birds (as well as the many other creatures adversely affected by lawns) do us a great service and serve an integral role in the web of life.

  • They eat pests like mosquitoes, Japanese beetles and other insects
  • They control rodent populations
  • They pollinate flowers
  • They distribute seeds they consume to help in reforestation
  • Scavenging birds help clean up our environment
  • They serve as environmental indicators
  • They provide entertainment for bird watchers

So, how do our innocent lawns play a part in declining bird populations?

  • Pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides [weed killers], fungicides & rodenticides) applied to our lawns continue to kill millions of birds every year.  Plus, they’re toxic to humans too (research has revealed links between pesticide exposure and rates of sterility, cancers, hormonal disruption, and immune system disorders in humans).
  • Fertilizers run off our lawns all too often and end up in our waterways where they kill aquatic life that birds depend upon for food.  Much of it that doesn’t run off, ends up in our ground water.
  • Loss of habitat occurs when land is developed and lawns replace natural places that birds use for food, shelter and breeding habitat
  • Air, water & noise pollution from lawn care equipment; too many lights in developed areas; and any contaminants found on the ground (or in waterways).  Birds are especially susceptible to contaminants in the air.

So how can we modify our lawn habits so bird populations can recover?

  • Plant trees, shrubs, flower gardens, meadows and ground covers instead of lawns.  Native plants are low maintenance and will support our native bird, butterfly and honeybee populations.  Providing fresh water so birds can drink and bathe is also helpful.
  • Please don’t use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers on your lawn areas.  By creating a balanced environment and attracting more birds to your yard, you’ll have less pests to deal with.  Instead of using synthetic fertilizers to add Nitrogen, leave grass clippings on your lawn.  You can also add a thin layer of compost to your lawn to help with water detention.  You’ll reduce weed growth if you avoid cutting your lawn too short (3 inches is a good height).
  • Buy organic products, from fertilizers to fresh produce.  Even buying grass-fed meat and shade grown coffee makes a difference and supports grasslands and rainforests, respectively, which are critical bird habitat.
  • Other ways to help:  Support or volunteer for a local organization that helps birds and the environment.  Participate in a bird count.  Keep your cat indoors (they are a top predator of birds).

Tag(s): Going Green, The Great Green Outdoors


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