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How can I create habitat for birds on my farm?

Answer: Sustainable agriculture relies on biodiversity to provide the environmental services on which it depends to maintain productivity. Biodiversity is created by establishing habitat on the farm that harnesses the diversity of wildlife, including birds. Several types of effective habitat can be created or enhanced on agricultural land that can increase beneficial bird populations and provide pest control services (Garfinkel and Johnson, 2015). Here are a few:

• Hedgerows of native plants around edges of farms provide habitat for birds, as well as attracting beneficial insects, reducing weeds, reducing soil erosion, and improving water quality. Perennial grasses provide cover for ground-feeding birds, flowering plants attract insectivores and nectar-feeding birds, woody shrubs are good for roosting, and bigger trees provide bird nesting sites and serve as perches for raptors such as hawks.

• Windbreaks provide nesting and brood-rearing habitat, potential food, protection from wind and adverse weather, escape cover, and refuge for many species of birds. Windbreaks may provide travel corridors that facilitate movement of animals between other habitats. They are used as resting stops by migratory birds (Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2004). Windbreak species should be, ideally, native tree and shrub species suitable for the soils in your area.

• Riparian corridors are the most productive habitat for birds because of their ability to serve a large area that transects many farms and converges with many different land uses. Riparian habitats provide water, food, nesting sites, resting areas during migration, and overwintering sites.

• Ponds and ditches can be managed to attract birds and other wildlife. Keeping the margins of ponds, ditches, and reservoirs well vegetated can improve the value of these wetland habitats for birds like egrets and herons and can improve water quality.

• Fallow fields and crop rotation are good ways to provide cover for wildlife. Leaving a recently cropped field to idle for a period will encourage birds to forage and nest in the area. Rotating different crops will reduce pests and diseases and provide a variety of insects and plants for birds to feed on.

• Fallen or dead-standing trees provide valuable habitat for birds and other animals. Cavity-nesting birds can make use of the hollows. Insects that break down the fallen tree serve as food, and fallen limbs provide cover. Limbs can also serve as perches for raptors, and lower limbs can provide sites for songbirds to prey on insects.

The ATTRA publication Beneficial and Pest Birds: Vertebrate IPM Tip Sheet offers more ways to create habitat on your farm. In addition, this publication will help you with bird identification, pest bird management, and even birdhouse dimensions for various species.

References:
Garfinkel, Megan and Matthew Johnson. Pest-removal Services Provided by Birds on Small Organic Farms in Northern California. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 211 (2015): 24-31.

Natural Resources Conservation Service – South Dakota. 2004. Windbreaks/Shelterbelts as Wildlife Habitat. Job Sheet Insert 380. April.