Gardening for Wildlife Enhances Bird Diversity Beyond Your Own Back Yard

by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
October 25, 2021

Households manage their yards in diverse ways and new research has found that their landscaping and management decisions have the potential to increase wild bird habitat and influence bird biodiversity in their yard and also at the neighborhood and city scale.

Across the United States, bird populations are declining due to decreases in availability of habitat. Recently, a team of scientists explored the value of the biggest chunk of green space found in cities – residential yards – as wildlife habitat. A new study, “Residential yard management and landscape cover affect urban bird community diversity across the continental USA,” was published this month in the journal Ecological Applications. The research was co-led by USDA Forest Service Research Ecologist Susannah Lerman and Post-Doctoral Researcher Desirée L. Narango from City University of New York and University of Massachusetts. Together with partners they conducted bird diversity observations in four residential yard types and in natural parks in six cities with distinctly different climate conditions: Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; and Phoenix, AZ.

The researchers found similar patterns in all six cities; although urban parks support more species of conservation concern (an official designation of species whose long-term persistence is in question) compared with yards, yards certified as wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation’s certification program support a wider variety of bird species compared with more traditional yard landscaping (e.g., lawn-dominated yards.) This suggests that landscape management for wildlife can contribute to region-wide bird diversity. The study also considered public interest levels based on Google searches and bird sightings and found that yards supported more popular species compared with parks.

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Read the Ecological Applications paper: