Let’s make our backyards a better buffet for birds – Post Bulletin

To celebrate our 25th anniversary, Pat and I planned a trip to Las Vegas. Agenda items included people watching, spotting local desert birds, maybe seeing a show or two, and visiting the Hoover Dam.

But the real reason I wanted to go to Vegas? The buffets. Nothing like getting drunk!

But we are not the only ones to appreciate a monumental buffet. In nature, variety is the norm, or WAS the norm. Before European settlers arrived and started tilling/developing every acre of land available, this country was like a Vegas buffet on steroids. But this is no longer the case.

Let’s put it this way. You are invited to a party. Someone is throwing what promises to be THE party of the year. You and your friends just can’t wait! Before going out, you put on your best outfit, because you dress to impress. As you head to the party (in your perfectly clean car), you notice that your salivary glands are already in overdrive.

After your hosts graciously invite you into their not-so-humble abode, you anxiously make your way to what promises to be the best buffet table you’ve ever seen. Only it is a major failure. There’s a salad bar with sad-looking iceberg lettuce, inedible parsley, and a few of those tomato rosettes for garnish. Maybe a bowl of cheap peanuts. Nothing substantial. To make matters worse, they serve Natural Light beer! Your hosts have lost it? Yes!

And yet, that is exactly what happens to wild creatures that to depend on a huge buffet here every spring and summer. They are like us, preparing for this big party and expecting a huge spread, but find lawn grass salads. Unlike us, however, they can’t stop at McDonald’s to make up for a miserable party. We need to provide real food!

Take birds, for example. To feed them, just put seeds and call them good, right? Think again. Many birds migrate hundreds (or even thousands) of miles to get here for the big summer party we call the breeding season (the males are even all dressed up in their fancy outfits!).

What they need is protein, and that comes in the form of insects. Some 96% of birds need insects to feed their growing families and they only arrive to find lawns. Sod is ideal for earthworms (which like robins) and underground grubs, which in turn attract skunks and raccoons. Lawns do almost nothing except suck up crazy amounts of water and chemicals.

Who was the moron who decided we should spend our summers riding/behind a stupid, loud, smelly (not to mention expensive) lawn mower? Seriously, where does this obsessive need to impress neighbors with a perfect yard come from? We’ve all been duped, folks. It’s totally crazy behavior for a supposedly intelligent and enlightened species.

Let’s abandon the huge lawns and the totally bogus work of maintaining them. Keep the front yard lawn if you must, but blend it in the back. Visit the nursery and ask about native plants and shrubs. They’ll have plants that are good for pollinators, and that’s great because what’s good for insects is also better for birds and other critters. Find a variety of plants that will bloom at different times, not just spring and early summer. The buffet should be open all season. Plant your native grasses and flowers in groups, that way they will also provide habitat. Now we offer room and board! In addition, native plants need almost nothing for maintenance. No need for watering or chemicals. In the long run, you’ll save money and resources.

A backyard should also look a little messy. Back then, brush piles, leaf mounds and fallen logs were commonplace. Standing dead trees with holes were left alone. As children, didn’t we enjoy going out to discover new things? It was an adventure. This is where we found salamanders, lightning bolts and frogs to scare our moms.

Discuss with your neighbors (and HOAs) what steps you can take together to replace turf with native species. Plan new changes every year. It doesn’t have to be done all at once – the small steps add up. Our backyards can become magical places again.

And those Vegas buffets? Due to COVID we had to cancel our trip, but I still hold out hope. Until next time, get outside and enjoy spring!

Melissa Gerken and her patient husband Pat reside in Zumbrota. She describes herself as a bird nerd, aspiring stargazer, and a lover of all things wild. She enjoys sharing her passion for nature with others.

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