april30-jays-bird-barnI was in Provo, Utah earlier this week and enjoyed having three of my sons join me on a quick bird watching trip to Utah Lake. We birded along the east shore early in the morning, which provided us with ideal viewing conditions as the sun was behind us.

Some of the species we saw included western meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, yellow-headed blackbird, song sparrow and marsh wren. There were large numbers of long-legged wading bird species such as American avocet, black-necked stilt, greater yellowlegs, long-billed dowitchers, white-faced ibis and killdeer.

We also saw a Virginia rail, which was probably our best sighting of the day. This species is not necessarily rare-it is just that it is rarely seen. Virginia rails spend most of their time lurking in the protection of thick stands of cattails.

We also saw a good variety of waterfowl, including mallards, shovelers, gadwalls, redheads, cinnamon, green-winged and blue-winged teal. We also saw American pelicans, double-crested cormorants, black-crowned night herons, Clark’s grebe, sandhill cranes and a snowy egret. The birding was great, but being with my boys was even better!

On a local level, this Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Highlands Center for Natural History is having its annual native plant sale. There are also free educational presentations slated for Saturday morning that are open to the public. At 11 a.m., I will be giving a presentation on landscaping with native plants to attract birds to your yard.

Ultimately, your ability to attract a variety of birds to your yard largely depends on how inviting your yard is to wild birds. Yards that are rich with plant diversity are typically rich in bird diversity.

A week from Saturday, May 9, the Highlands Center will be celebrating International Migratory Bird Day from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This year’s theme for IMBD is ‘Restore Habitat, Restore Birds’. One of the greatest threats to wild birds is the loss of habitat.

When you think about what wild birds need to survive, it is a pretty short list-wild birds need food, water, shelter and a place to rear young. You might ask yourself, where do birds find food, shelter and places to rear their young? The answer is in vegetation.

The vegetation in your yard creates a habitat, which in turn provides sources of food in the form of seeds, nectar, and insects-as plants act as a host for insects. Most bird species require vegetation for nesting. The bottom line is this-birds need cover for food, shelter and for rearing young.

My general rule of thumb for landscaping is to try and mirror the native habitat that originally existed on your property prior to home construction. Some developers understand and appreciate the value of our beautiful, native habitats here in the Central Highlands and leave as much as they can when building a home.

Unfortunately, far too many developers basically ‘strip’ property of the natural vegetation when clearing a lot for development and when the property is landscaped, far too often yards are covered with decorative rock and non-native plants which do not meet the needs of the birds that occurred in that area prior to construction.

Restoring habitat has a healing effect and creates a situation where native birds will move back into an area once development is done.

I look forward to seeing you this weekend at the Highlands Center at the Native Plant Sale and next weekend at the International Migratory Bird Day celebration where you can learn more about restoring habitat and restoring birds.

Until next week, Happy Birding!