Take Action for Vanishing Wildlife: “Bring Nature Home” in Your Own Backyard

Sixty percent of the world’s wildlife populations have been lost in just over the last forty years. Sixty percent! That is the estimate from the latest Living Planet Report[1] published recently by the World Wildlife Fund. Ewing’s Environmental Commissioners and Green Team members have noted their alarm about the loss of biodiversity and vanishing wildlife in numerous published materials and posts. We have read reports that inform us that the “current massive degradation of habitat and extinction of many of the Earth’s biota is unprecedented and is taking place on a catastrophically short timescale.”[2] We have also personally taken note of the loss of local wildlife. Where are the boundless flocks of migrating birds that filled the autumn skies of our youth, the omnipresent lightning bugs that lit up our backyard summer evenings, the butterflies, the bees, the bats…?

Habitat loss is key. Suburban neighborhoods have exchanged healthy native habitats for vast stretches of manicured lawns which contribute little of ecological value. Industrial agriculture also plays a heavy role in unsustainable loss of habitat while also promoting synthetic chemicals and monocropping. We depend upon wildlife for critical ecosystem services and again, we wonder if we are destroying our planet’ s ability to support our way of life.

If you too are alarmed about the extent of this crisis and wonder what you can do to ensure that your children and grandchildren will be able enjoy the natural world as we did, we invite you to follow the example of two of Ewing’s Environmental Commissioners, both wildlife champions, who work to promote and protect wildlife habitat and diversity on their own properties. Ewing Environmental Commissioner, former chair, and avid birder Lee Farnham participates in Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that counts birds and species at local feeders from November through April each year. This project helps scientists quantify the health of bird populations around the nation. And Environmental Commissioner and Green Team Chair Joanne Mullowney comes at the problem from her long-term gardening experience and now gardens for wildlife on her National Wildlife Federation certified property. They are taking action for vanishing wildlife species and we encourage you to read on to learn how you can do the same.

National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife Program

The goal of the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife Program is to encourage all land owners to live more sustainably and harmoniously with nature on their own properties. This means changing landscape management practices to support wildlife by (1) gardening organically and eliminating the application of synthetic chemicals to the landscape, (2) removing some of your lawn to provide food, cover and shelter for wildlife thru the establishment of native plant communities, and (3) providing the water sources, however small, that wildlife needs to survive.

Lest you think that gardening for wildlife does not fit the suburban landscape ethic, we strongly disagree. A well-maintained habitat garden will not only be a refuge for our vanishing wildlife; but can be structured and beautiful. Joanne participates in the Green Team’s Annual Garden Tour and is proud to invite people to visit her gardens during the Tour each year.

If you would like to learn more about how to provide habitat in your own yard and gardening for wildlife, we have enrolled Ewing in the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Gardening for Wildlife Program. See our new website, the Ewing Community Wildlife Habitat Project, and join us to protect wildlife in Ewing. There are currently about 50 certified gardens in and about town.

Project FeederWatch

Project FeederWatch, a program for birders, is a citizen science program run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada and is a November-April survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards and common areas in North America. Participants count the birds they see at their feeders and their species on a regular schedule and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. Anyone interested in birds can participate.

This fall and winter season, Lee is once again going to pick up his binoculars to count the birds that visit his backyard feeders for project scientists. His beautiful and wonderfully wooded backyard is ideal for his avian visitors and offers plenty of shelter, cover and food (and really should be NWF certified).

Lee’s observations will be added to those of thousands of others across North America to help understand the distribution and abundance of birds that visit American feeders. This data also helps scientists to understand:

  • Changes in the winter ranges of feeder birds
  • The kinds of foods and environmental factors that attract birds
  • How disease is spread among birds that visit feeders

His data can help scientists show how climate change and decreased habitat are impacting winter bird communities.

In the coming months we will be posting the results of his weekly backyard observations. If you feed the birds in your backyard, you too can take on the role of citizen scientist while enjoying avian backyard wildlife up close this coming FeederWatch season. All you need to do is to install a feeder, count the birds that visit, and report your results to FeederWatch scientists. For more information about how you can participate go to https://feederwatch.org/about/how-to-participate/.

You may not be a birder, but there are many ways people participate in citizen science activities to help scientists around the country monitor and manage wildlife populations. From the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, to the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program, to the annual Horseshoe Crab Count during spawning season, and the spring and fall seasonal butterfly counts for the North American Butterfly Association, there are many opportunities to do so and the contributions from citizen scientists provide data on scales previously unattainable for most research teams. We also believe that anyone can plant native plants in their yards and learn to garden more sustainably.

Join us. You will reap a truer enjoyment of the natural world and a deeper connection to nature. Do it because wildlife matters and is worth protecting.

[1] Living Planet Report – 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). World Wildlife Federation, Gland, Switzerland. 2018.
[2] The Current Biodiversity Extinction Event: Scenarios for Mitigation and Recovery. Michael J. Novacek and Elsa E. Cleland. PNAS 2001 May, 98 (10) 5466-5470.

Project FeederWatch Report Jan 27/28

by Lee Farnham

Seed was put out early on Saturday a.m., but Juncos and Goldfinches were already on the deck and deck rail clamoring for breakfast (there’s plenty of old seed there but they like fresh), so more was added and I went inside to start watching, along with Reina, our cat, who watches with me.  Suddenly,  ALL birds left  the deck in a hurry, ditto the feeders at the bottom of the yard, which usually means a hawk is coming (or perhaps a Red Fox)….and then we heard a clunk as one of the departing birds hit a window in the rush.

Since the deck feeders are within ten feet of the house we’ve taken some precautions against birds hitting windows….it’s mostly that we’ve bought decals for the windows which refract light differently, so the bird knows there’s something there ahead of time.  This poor Goldfinch was woozy when I found him standing on the deck, but he listed to port instead of being upright.  Usually, if the bird has knocked itself out, we pick him up,  put him in a small box lined with tissue paper, and close the lid (and take him inside).  That way he’ll be in a dark place, away from the outside, and he’ll recover after a while.  If he doesn’t, but is still alive, read on.

I thought of doing that with this Goldfinch, but decided not to because he was almost upright.  Instead I left him alone for ten minutes with the hope that he’d recover and be on his way.  However, one of the overfed squirrels needed a drink, and his abrupt visit to the deck spooked the Goldfinch, who tried to fly off but hit another window in the process!  Now he was down on his side, though still conscious, so I gave him another ten minutes….and during that time there was another scare and he flew straight off the deck and into the  Dogwood tree nearby!  It looked as if he had recovered well, and that all he needed was some quiet time.

So we didn’t have to make a trip to the Mercer County Wildlife Center on the east side of Route 29 in Titusville, south of Lambertville, but  they’re there if you need them, and they will take birds that knock themselves out on windows near feeders.  It’s supported, in large part, by donations, so we’re happy to contribute annually to their continuing welfare, because we’ve taken birds and squirrels to them over the years.  They are very conscientious about following up with every patient they get; you’ll get a note when one of their “guests” have been released back into the wild.  While they are run by Mercer County, Wildlife Center Friends partners with them, and is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.

Check out the Mercer County Wildlife Center.  They’re at 1748 River. Rd., Titusville, NJ 08560.  Phone:  609-303-0552. Hours are 9 am – 4pm seven days a week.  They take all types of injured, ill and displaced native wildlife, provide them with medical treatment and a temporary refuge before releasing them back into an appropriate wildlife habitat.