Birdwatching, photo by Kim Grveles

Why Protect or Create Stopover Habitat?

What’s good for the birds is good for us…and for our economy!

Migratory birds provide aesthetic and economic values to people through their very existence.  Even non-bird watchers may be thrilled to see a Bald Eagle migrating along Lake Michigan’s coast, and many people feel they would be deprived in some way if these birds were to disappear.  According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2006 report, bird watching has become a popular sport with one out of five Americans having spent about $36 billion on travel and equipment in 2006.    

Not only do migratory birds add joy to the lives of many people, but they play an important role in maintaining the ecosystems on which humans depend to maintain our quality of life.  For example, some birds pollinate flowering plants, while others act as pest control of insects or rodents.  Birds can disperse seeds, but some species, like Eastern Towhees, also help with weed control by eating the seeds of invasive plants.

Eastern Bluebird, photo by Thomas Schultz

Migratory birds need food-rich stopover sites with adequate shelter.  Providing good resting and refueling stops for migrating birds will improve their chances for a successful migration.  That means Wisconsin will have more birds controlling insect populations, better bird watching opportunities which will help our economy, and more protected habitat for birds and many other wildlife.

In our backyards, we can provide food, water and shelter for migrating birds.  A frog pond, water garden, bird bath or even a shallow dish of water will get lots of bird use, especially if the water is dripping, splashing or moving.  Oak trees and berry-producing shrubs and trees will supply food and these may be supplemented by bird feeders and cut fruit.  An ideal yard will be populated with plants that flower and fruit throughout the spring, summer and fall.   For shelter, evergreen trees and brush piles are among the most valuable and may also provide foraging opportunities for birds that eat insects.

One of the leading threats to migratory birds comes from windows that reflect the natural surroundings making the presence of the window undetectable by flying birds.  A collision with window glass can stun a bird temporarily, making it vulnerable to predators, and can break its neck and kill it.  Non-reflective window coatings, window screens, awnings, flash tape, bird netting and trees planted near buildings can all help make windows less reflective, minimizing the chance of birds colliding with them.  Bird feeders should be placed away from windows, taking into consideration the natural protection of trees and shrubs available in the yard.