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Common Nighthawk

Don't Give Up!

This article is the President's message published in the March/April issue of The Naturalist.

Recently the news media has brought forward what many of us have suspected all along—the bird population is dropping. While it is heartbreaking, it just reinforces to me how helping birds any way I can is so important. So here are my top five suggestions that we can all do to make a difference.

  1. Pick it up. Trash, especially plastic trash, isn't just an eyesore. For birds it can be deadly. As Anna Vallery, a Houston Audubon Conservation Specialist, presented last year, the amount of foreign materials found in a dead bird's stomach is alarming. They mistake trash for food and once it is in their systems, the outcome can be life-threatening. So let's avoid the problem and pick it up.
  2. Make a habitat in your yard. Understory is important for lots of birds, because that's where they find food. Make an understory in your yard where you can. Leave the leaf litter on the ground under trees and in your flower beds. Plant natives and avoid plants such as crepe myrtle that do not help birds. Water features that are bird-friendly are important as well. A Houston Audubon member who lives in West University, which is in the middle of Houston, has a small backyard. After they planted natives and added a water drip, they've been able to enjoy Ovenbirds in their yard. It does not take much, but it does take something.
  3. Help birds avoid windows strikes. Houston Audubon's Lights Out Program has had some great successes, but what I am talking about is bird strikes in my backyard. Nothing is more frustrating than coming home to find an imprint of a White-winged Dove on our glass French Doors because, more times than not, I will find a dead bird nearby. After trying a few different things, we found that once we hung a small spinning brass artwork thing (what I call it) from the eaves, bird strikes have been reduced about 70%. Sometimes when a hawk is in hot pursuit of a dove it happens anyway, but the numbers are down just by adding one small feature near the windows.
  4. Educate your neighbors. We really enjoy standing in our front yard and using a spotting scope to look at birds in our neighbor's big oak tree. It doesn't take long before people stop and ask, "What ya looking at?" You let them take a look and when they see the hawk or whistling-duck, their interest in helping birds is piqued. They are also more responsive to hearing about things they can do to make their yards bird-friendly. Plant a thought, an idea, a concept. Good things can come from a small suggestion.
  5. Go to and Over the years, Houston Audubon staff and volunteers have made these two websites great places to go to for birding information, resources and ways you can help. They are loaded with activities and ways for you to get more involved in the birding community.

As I have said before, every little thing matters. Never underestimate or take for granted how you can help birds.

Sam Smith