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
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.
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.
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 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.
- 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?
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.
Clover and Wildflower Seeds
Five Useful Weeds - Beautiful and Edible by cclitgirl
- Five Useful Weeds - Beautiful and Edible
Here are five "weeds" that are beautiful, are edible, have medicinal qualities and uses that you never knew! They grow in my yard and I just can't bring myself to get rid of them because I like to use them!
More from Grandma Pearl
- The Perfect Bird-Friendly Evergreen Plants
Protect Your Backyard Birds While Adding Natural Beauty to Your Yard. One of the best and easiest ways to help your backyard birds will also benefit you. Learn how to add year round beauty and interest to your landscape, while providing natural prote
- Attracting Birds to Your Yard With Flowers
What attracts birds to certain plants? What do you need to make your yard as bird-friendly as possible? If you were a bird, what would you look for in a potential habitat?