Edge Habitats: Why Are They Significant to Our Backyard Birds?

  • What is an Edge Area?
  • Why Create One?
  • Examples of Edge Habitats
  • How to Create Beneficial Edge Habitats

 Two separate environments meet abruptly when a grassy meadow is edged by a wooded area.
Two separate environments meet abruptly when a grassy meadow is edged by a wooded area. | Source

What Exactly is an Edge Area?

In ecology, when different environments are positioned next to each other a phenomenon known as the edge effect is produced. The boundary between natural habitats can either be well defined, blended or ‘fuzzy’. An example of a well-defined edge area would be the place where a forest and a field meet abruptly. Conversely, if there is a shrubby thicket between the forest and the field, a more naturally blended edge area exists.

Why Would You Want to Create An Edge Habitat?

Scientists have advocated the creation of edge habitats with the thought that biodiversity is good for insuring the health of various bird, butterfly, bee and other insect populations. More diverse areas create more diverse insect populations, which in turn produce more food for a larger variety of our feathered friends. That is the edge effect. Biodiversity is a good thing.

Example of Blended Edge Habitat.
Example of Blended Edge Habitat. | Source

Examples of Edge Areas

The best edge areas or habitats contain plants of different heights. The habitat might start with mature hardwoods and/or evergreen trees as in a forest, then saplings or shrubs, mid-level plantings and finally shorter plantings in the front.

Another example is a pond environment. At the pond edge there are a variety of reeds, grasses, shrubby bushes, small trees, etc.

An ideal edge habitat should be at least 30’ in depth according to environmental scientists. However, as long as the habitat contains no narrow corridors where predators like raccoons, foxes, feral and domestic dogs and cats, snakes and opossums can hide and attack foraging birds, the depth can be 10’ and still be a very effective edge area.

Native bushes and small saplings make great place for birds to hide, nest and forage for food.
Native bushes and small saplings make great place for birds to hide, nest and forage for food. | Source

Pretty Weeds

Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot)
Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot) | Source
Jewelweed (Wild Impatiens)
Jewelweed (Wild Impatiens) | Source
Goldenrod, which does NOT produce allergens like ragweeds do.
Goldenrod, which does NOT produce allergens like ragweeds do. | Source

How You Can Create an Edge Habitat

  • Insure that you include native plants and shrubs. Your local birds are used to these trees, shrubs and plants and look for them. Additionally, native vegetation has become acclimated to your region and can cope with your specific temperatures and climatic factors. There are many native wildflowers and herbs that are well-loved by the birds, butterflies and insects in your area. Some are natural host plants for butterflies and other insects. Birds and bees can greatly benefit from the nectar in herbs, clovers and wildflowers. Your local county extension office will have information to help you in your selection.
  • A sunny meadow will be filled with birds, butterflies and beneficial insects as well as colorful flowers. Just be sure there are plenty of safe perches nearby. Paying attention to and mimicking nature can help you to design a beautiful landscape without sacrificing the safety of your wild birds.
  • Some so-called weeds have very pretty flowers. Weed flowers can be small and insignificant to us, but provide nutrition in the form of nectar and seeds that birds, butterflies, bees and other insects need to survive. Weed seeds will continue to feed birds during the cold winter months. So don’t be too quick to yank out a weed!

Some Weeds Can Be Invasive. Others Are Poisonous. Your Local Cooperative Extension Office Can Advise You as to Which Ones Should Be Avoided.

Wild Huckleberry Bush has white flowers in June and light blue berries in July.  Fruit loving birds like titmice really enjoy them!
Wild Huckleberry Bush has white flowers in June and light blue berries in July. Fruit loving birds like titmice really enjoy them! | Source
Densely planted Cottage Garden provides lots of food, nesting material and perching places for birds; as well as nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Densely planted Cottage Garden provides lots of food, nesting material and perching places for birds; as well as nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. | Source
  • Wild berry bushes will attract and feed a huge variety of birds and insects. Berries and grape vines can be trained on and flanked by fences to enhance your landscape. Dense vines and trellises are yet another way your backyard birds can find shelter and food, as well as safe perches and nesting areas. Dwarf fruit trees and vegetable gardens contain all sorts of goodies for humans as well as birds.
  • Planting a cottage garden surrounded by a picket fence provides lots of food (insects and seeds), perching, and easy escape opportunities. Any predator moving through the thickly planted vegetation would create a disturbance, and a natural alert for the birds.
  • Install conifers in a dense concentration. This kind of group planting provides lots of perches, shelter and food (insects, pine cones, etc.), with less chance of predation.

NOTE: Again, check with your local cooperative extension office when selecting native plants and shrubs.

Old Tree Stump left for the birds.
Old Tree Stump left for the birds. | Source
Bluebird House on Metal Pole
Bluebird House on Metal Pole | Source
A New Generation of Predators:  Baby Raccoons learning how to climb trees.
A New Generation of Predators: Baby Raccoons learning how to climb trees. | Source


  • Leave non-poisonous native species of flowers, shrubs and vines in place. Just add to them, rather than rip them out. If there is a dead snag or tree stump, don’t remove it unless it poses a physical hazard. It is truly amazing how many creatures, including birds, use this natural food and nesting source.
  • Dense edge habitats are ideal places to install bird houses on poles about 20 feet or more apart. Be sure to add a baffle to your pole. In so doing, you will help your backyard birds not only by providing safer nesting spots, but by limiting predation of the nestlings and adults alike.
  • Consider using low-growing herbs instead of grass. Chemically-saturated large expanses of ‘perfect’ lawns only serve to poison our environment and ground water. Just think about not having to haul out the lawnmower ever again! No fuel to buy, no fumes to breath, no hours spent trimming and cutting grass. Every time you step on this kind of ‘lawn’ you will enjoy the fragrance and the feeling that you have done something to significantly help the inhabitants of your backyard and of the earth in general. Herbal Grass Mixtures are available in some local plant nurseries and on line.
  • Above all, don’t use toxic chemical pesticides or herbicides, which totally poison the environment, including our water.

Do You Use Toxic Pesticides or Herbicides?

See results without voting
This 'corridor' is 8 feet wide at its narrowest, and widens out to 15 feet in places.  It contains clover and low-growing herbs.  It separates 2 of my cottage gardens.
This 'corridor' is 8 feet wide at its narrowest, and widens out to 15 feet in places. It contains clover and low-growing herbs. It separates 2 of my cottage gardens. | Source

How Wide Should Corridors Be?

Be sure that any corridors are wide enough for birds to be able to take flight easily and to find secure perches away from predatory attack. My rule of thumb is at least 8 to 10 feet wide.

The Downside of Edge Habitats

While beneficial to birds, these areas are natural predator magnets.

That is why it is so important to plant densely without inadvertently creating dangerous ‘attack’ corridors.

Make sure that any edge area corridors are wide enough for birds to make a successful getaway. Think about how Nature landscapes in a gradual progression from herbal 'lawn' or meadow to shrubby thicket to the actual edge of the existing small forest, so that no narrow edge areas or corridors are created.

Everything we do has some kind of affect on the world around us. We need to be mindful about what we do and how our actions might impact the environment in the long run.

More by this Author


Do You Have Edge Habitats on Your Property? 13 comments

moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

Very interesting hub. We have a meadow with a walk through and the birds and butterflies love it. They hang out in there all the time. We pretty much just let whatever grows grow. Don't cut down anything. It's full of rashberries bushs and blackberries the birds love it. Voted Up on your hub.


JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

Oh wow, what a fantastic hub and fantastic idea. Could you imagine what our neighbourhoods would look like if everybody did this? I think though some people would find it difficult to change their attitude towards 'weeds' and 'pests'. Hopefully your hub will inspire a few people. Voted up and shared.


Angelo52 profile image

Angelo52 4 years ago from Central Florida

Great idea. Everybody complains about killing off the birds and other animals but most folks follow the grass must be green method of a backyard. Planting native plants, bushes and trees would make a big improvement. Unfortunate that many homeowner associations prefer grass option instead. Voted up and shared.


pinxinsales004 4 years ago

What a green world.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Hi moonlake, so glad you stopped by. You are very fortunate indeed to have a wonderful walk-through meadow that the birds can enjoy as well. My Mom had an all-natural area on her property where we harvested and shared bushels of wild 'black cap' berries every summer. There were still plenty left for all the birds and deer to enjoy. It was never trimmed and contained every kind of wildflower, weed, bramble and sapling you could imagine. Hundreds of birds and butterflies called it home. Right behind that was an untouched boggy area, which provided lots more opportunities for insects and wildlife to flourish. My brothers and sister and I happily learned first hand about how beautiful nature can be! Thank you very much for the Votes and comments.

JKenny, so nice to see you! It is true that some weeds and pests are truly obnoxious. Some weeds can even be toxic to us. But wouldn't it be a gorgeous world if we could learn to manage the wild, native plants without ripping them out in favor of plain old boring grass!! Thanks for your comments, Vote and Share. They are very much appreciated.

Hello Angelo52! I am so glad you stopped by. Thank you so much for the Vote and Share. Unfortunately, many homeowner associations are very short-sighted. They like to 'control' their community, make everything neat and tidy. I could not live in such a place! I would much rather work with Nature than against her. I totally agree that using native plants could only serve to improve our current environmental conditions. Hopefully there will soon be a lot more of Us than Them! Thanks for your supportive comments.

pinxinsales004, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, I am thankfully and purposely surrounded by my green world--and loving it!!


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Connie, this is great material and your yard looks so inviting. You must have a number of wonderful birds and other creatures on your property.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

aviannovice, You are right! I have many birds, lots of wild critters and insects. Keeping things green has filled my backyard with a multitude of fun-to-watch creatures. Trimming only minimally allows for a wide variety of wild flowers and beneficial weeds as well. The great thing is that the more I leave it alone, the more I am surrounded by songbirds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, hop toads, deer, etc. Every time I go outside, it's an adventure! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is most appreciated.


naturegirl7 profile image

naturegirl7 4 years ago from South Louisiana

This is an excellent article. We have 9 acres of natural habitat in south Louisiana filled with native plants and wildlife, including birds. Thanks for helping to spread the word about biodiversity.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

What a brilliant hub and I know I am going to enjoy following you on here.

Have a great day.

Eddy.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Thank you Eiddwen! You have just made my day! I very much appreciate your wonderful support. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a beautiful comment. I hope you have a great day as well.

Connie


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

naturegirl, thank you so much for your great comment. Biodiversity and using native plants is just so important. I abhor the prolific use of toxic pesticides, which are ruining this old Earth. If people would try to understand nature instead of attempt to defeat it, we humans and all the animals would be so much better off. I derive such a lot of pleasure from my birds and wildlife, I can't imagine a world without them! I really appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Thank you.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Voted up up and away. This is awesome. Edge habitats have been in my view all of my life and I had no clue they had a name. You have so carefully and thoroughly presented this topic.

Sending Angels to you :) ps

Pinned and shared.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

pstraubie, thank you so much for your amazing and supportive comments! I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. As you can tell, birds are my passion. I just can't imagine not being surrounded by their beauty and songs year round, so I do my best to help them any way that I can. I enjoy your visits very much. Your pins and shares are most appreciated. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sending Angels to me. You have a generous heart, and I send Angels to you as well. I hope you have a peaceful and happy day. Pearl

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