Birds are a delight to observe and are critical to our local ecosystems. Here in the Puget Sound, this includes both dozens of year-round resident species as well as migratory species that either overwinter or travel through. We live in a critical, narrow coastal corridor that many migratory species rely on, traveling from colder regions. Below is the stunning display of migratory routes of just 6 species, you can clearly see the coastal route mapped out.

Click the photo to watch a time-lapse of one year of migration patterns created by architecture student Nicolás Miranda. (source)

Birds are on our minds because overall they’re being threatened, and there are things we can do right now in our gardens to help them out. We’re not actually suggesting you do anything – we want to suggest you not do something. Fall is the time of year that many of our plants have finished reproducing (seeds are mature, the life cycle is complete) and are dying or going dormant for the winter. If your normal routine is to cut dead plant material back and “tidy up” the garden, please continue reading. By leaving the dead stalks and mature seed heads until Spring, you can actually help support many birds.

Of course, different birds eat different things, but one easy way to help seed-eating species is to simply delay dead-heading and pruning your flowering plants. Think daisies, zinnias, coneflower, yarrow – all plants that leave visible seed heads and brittle plant material at the end of the season. By leaving the seed heads on top of the stalks, you’re providing food sources and nest building material.

On left: P. Bannick captures a Black-capped Chickadee eating yarrow seeds. (source)
On right: Scott Kruitbosch captures an America Goldfinch eating Purple Coneflower seeds.

You might think your garden is small so it’s not a big deal, but many birds are at risk, and ideally, we could start setting some new gardening norms. We’ve seen bird communities on the decline over the last half-century, and more recently, a staggering situation, that’s being called an “‘unprecedented’ migratory bird die-off”. So, if you can help by not doing something, would you? You might be surprised how many seed crops you already have in your yard! As always, if you’d like to discuss planting more bird-friendly plants, please send us an email – we’d love to discuss some options. For a fascinating exploration of birds as indicator species and the interconnected relationships they illuminate, we highly recommend this presentation by Doug Tallamy.

Snow geese spending their winter in the Skagit Valley of Western Washington.
Fortunately, migrating Snow Geese are doing well as a species. Because of their visibility, this regionally iconic migrating bird species reminds us of the new winter residents the Puget Sound must support. These birds migrate from Wrangel Island, Russia to the farm fields of the Skagit Valley, for winter warmth, and to forage on grains and grasses. Oh, the delights of wintertime!
Please remember, some yards and greenspaces are toxic to birds and other wildlife. Your organic yard can be a welcoming haven. If you’re looking for additional ideas, please see the resources listed on our blogpost about supporting wildlife in your backyard.