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Friends, for the birds

How can we help create a bird-friendly environment in our own yards? Nature Nick offers a few tips.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds were a big crowd-pleaser on World Migratory Bird Day near Edmonton, where residents of this Bird Friendly City learned how we can all help migratory birds like this. Photo: Nick Carter

Nature lovers in the Edmonton area recently celebrated World Migratory Bird Day with an event at Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. Organizations including Big Lake Environmental Support Society, Alberta Parks, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Wagner Natural Area were there to engage with visitors who were eager to learn more about our migratory birds. I was there too, helping to represent Nature Alberta alongside Program Director Steph Weizenbach. 

Days before the event, both the City of Edmonton and Strathcona County had earned the Bird Friendly City designation from Nature Canada. This program encourages communities to reduce human-related threats and create safe environments for birds while educating citizens on ways they can help conserve and celebrate our native birds.

The benefits of helping our local birds are many. Aside from looking and sounding beautiful, many birds eat pest species like insects and rodents. They also disperse seeds in their droppings, which helps fruit-bearing shrubs to spread. Aside from that, birds are intelligent and interesting creatures with their own lives, and they deserve to live and thrive for their own sake.

There are many ways that governments and citizens of Bird Friendly Cities like Edmonton can make life easier for birds. Avoid using pesticides which can have unhealthy effects on birds. Back in March, the City of Edmonton proposed the use of insecticides that are toxic to both birds and amphibians. This was met with resistance from the community. Remember the days of DDT and how it nearly drove many species to extinction? Herbicides for invasive weeds are harmful too, as they remove plants that birds need for food.

In your own garden, cultivating native Albertan plants will reduce the spread of invasive plants and give local birds more to eat. Consider not removing all the old, dead leaves and such from your garden. Insects hibernate and transform into their adult forms under old leaves, and these insects help pollinate your flowers and feed your local birds.

Windows can also be dangerous to small birds, who fly right into them, often leading to fatal injuries. There are different reasons for this. Birds may see the image of trees in the window and, not knowing it’s a reflection in glass, fly right at it. They might also see in through one window and out another, or into a brightly-lit room at night, not noticing the glass barrier. Birds don’t make glass and its presence isn’t obvious to them, but there are ways we can let them know it’s there. Visual markers like stickers and other decals on windows help. Keeping the curtains closed and lights off indoors whenever possible helps as well.

A feeder in your yard is a great way to draw birds in and helps them get needed calories. However, feeders in the wrong place can lead to increased window strikes. It's recommended to put feeders either less than one meter or further than ten meters away from your window. This keeps birds out of the fatal distance zone where they might be tempted to fly through your window and strike the glass. Bear in mind that, with the current avian flu outbreak, feeding birds at this time is discouraged.

There’s also the age-old foe of birds, the domestic cat. While we love our cats, they’re also responsible for millions of bird deaths each year worldwide. Keeping cats indoors whenever possible is recommended. If your cat loves going outside, consider putting it on a leash, even in the back yard, or acquiring an outdoor enclosure that gives kitty some outdoor time while keeping the birds safe.

Aside from that, it’s important to give birds their space and let them rest and feed in peace. With our cooperation, these little feathered dinosaurs will continue to thrive for another 66 million years.

Nick Carter is a writer, photographer, and naturalist from Edmonton. You can see more examples of his work at