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Advice from Audubon on helping the birds

It doesn’t mean you can ignore the yard but there are some practical tips for helping birds make it through winter.

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Submitted by a reader is the following message from the Audobon society on how you can help the local wildlife survive the coming winter.

To Help Birds This Winter, Go Easy on Fall Yard Work | Audubon

There’s a certain satisfaction in autumn chores. When the weather’s right, cleaning gutters, touching up paint, or splitting some firewood can feel less like manual labor and more like a rite of the season.

But if you want to make your backyard a welcoming winter haven for birds, some fall tasks call for a laissez-faire approach. “Messy is definitely good to provide food and shelter for birds during the cold winter months,” says Tod Winston, Audubon’s Plants for Birds program manager.

So let someone else keep up with the neighbors this weekend. Sleep in, linger a little longer with your morning coffee, and follow these tips for a bird-friendly yard you can be proud of.

Save the seeds. When fall arrives, some tidy-minded gardeners might be inclined to snip the stems of perennials in the flower garden. But the seed heads of coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and other native wildflowers provide a helpful food cache for birds. “They’re almost invisible, those seeds, but birds eat them all winter long,” Winston says. Grasses—not the stuff you mow, but native species like bluestems or gramas—also make for good foraging after they go to seed. And letting other dead plants stick around can fill your property with protein-packed bird snacks in the form of insect larvae, such as the fly and wasp larvae that inhabit goldenrod galls.

Leave the leaves. You can help birds and other wildlife—and save yourself some backache and blisters—by skipping the leaf raking. “Those leaves are important because they rot and enrich the soil, and also provide places for bugs and birds to forage for food,” Winston says. If a fully hands-off approach doesn’t work for your yard, consider composting some leaves and letting the rest be. You could also rake them from the lawn to your garden beds, or mulch them with a mower to nourish your lawn.

Leaf litter isn’t just free fertilizer—it’s also a pretty happening patch of habitat for a variety of critters such as salamanders, snails, worms, and toads. “If you’re digging in the garden and come upon these squirmy little coppery-brown dudes, and you don’t know what they are—those are moth pupae,” Winston says. A healthy layer of undisturbed soil and leaf litter means more moths, which in their caterpillar phase are a crucial food source for birds.

Build a brush pile. Along with shaking loose showers of leaves, blustery fall days also tend to knock down tree limbs. Rather than hauling them away, you can use fallen branches to build a brush pile that will shelter birds from lousy weather and predators. American Tree Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, and other wintering birds will appreciate the protection from the elements. Rabbits, snakes, and other wildlife also will take refuge there. You’ll find that the pile settles and decomposes over the seasons ahead, making room for next year’s additions. (And it’s a great place to dispose of your Christmas tree.)

Skip the chemicals. You might see your neighbors spreading “weed and feed” mixtures in the fall to fertilize their lawns and knock back crabgrass and other unwanted plants. In most cases, though, grass clippings and mulched leaf litter provide plenty of plant nutrition and using store-bought fertilizers only encourages more non-native plants to grow. Generally speaking, native grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowering plants don’t need chemical inputs. Save a few bucks and keep your yard healthy for bugs and birds.

Hit the nursery. Although laziness can be a good thing when it comes to creating a bird-friendly backyard, it’s worth putting in some hard work planting native shrubs and trees. (Cooler temperatures also make fall a more comfortable time to tear out some turf grass and expand your native plant garden.) Native dogwoods, hawthorns, sumacs, and other flowering shrubs produce small fruits that not only feed birds during the colder months but can also provide a welcome pop of color when winter gets drab. Planted in the right place, evergreens like cedars and firs give birds something to eat and a cozy shelter. Fall is also a great time to liven up your property with late-blooming perennials such as asters or sages—and to buy spring- and summer-blooming wildflowers at a substantial discount.

To find species suited to your yard, just enter your ZIP code in Audubon’s native plants database. If you plant trees or shrubs this fall, they might not bear fruit this year—but come next winter, you and your backyard birds will be glad you did.

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.

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Permit Points to Winery Coming to Westover Hills

Don’t whine about what’s going into old dry cleaners unless you don’t like wine.

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Once again our eagle-eyed reader John Murden pointed out this bit of news to us. The former dry cleaner next to Outpost on Forest Hill Ave. has applied for a winery license. Work has been going at a steady pace since the plans for Rage RVA fell through. We’ll keep an ear out and update you with more information as it comes out.

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Community

Science Museum of Virginia and RVAir Looking for Volunteers to Check Out Forest Hill Park

Collaborators will take walks through Forest Hill Park or other Richmond neighborhoods to collect data using hand-held AirBeam sensors to test for particulate matter (PM).

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Details snagged from the Science Musuem of Virginia RVAir page.

What Is RVAir?

The Museum’s current community science project is studying air quality in Richmond neighborhoods and we need you! We need individuals and community partners to help us measure local concentrations of airborne pollution known as particulate matter (PM), a mixture of microscopic particles in the air that has been linked with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Why Is This needed?

According to our project partners at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Richmond region experienced zero unhealthy ozone air quality days for the first time since monitoring began in the 1970s in 2019 (yay!). However, the National Asthma and Allergy Foundation consistently ranks Richmond as the 12th worst city in the U.S. for asthma sufferers. Why might this be?

Air quality ratings for the entire Richmond area are based on data collected that represents the regional “airshed.” We know from studies in other cities that local changes in the environment such as wide streets, traffic volume, close proximity to interstates and the number of trees lining streets can significantly change the amount of pollution in the air we breathe at the hyper-local level.

By getting local experts (you!) to help us get locally-specific air quality data throughout Richmond, we can help create home-grown solutions to Richmond’s climate resiliency challenge.

How Can I Get Involved?

We need collaborators to join us on walks through Richmond neighborhoods to collect data using hand-held AirBeam sensors to test for particulate matter (PM). By joining us whenever you can, you’ll be helping us collect data that will be directly uploaded to public, open source GIS maps showing local PM concentrations.

Additional Information:

  • Feel free to bring kids! Families are encouraged to participate. Just have one lead adult fill out the form.
  • You must be 18 or older to participate on your own.
  • Routes vary from 2-4 miles and typically take about an hour, but shorter 30-minute options are available.
  • Most route options are on flat, paved surfaces and are wheelchair accessible.
  • Accompaniment is available for anyone who may require assistance.
  • Biking is an option.
  • There are options for remote participation.
  • There’s no cost to participate.
  • Let us know about anything else you may need to ensure this project is accessible and inclusive.

Register Here

Looks like they need 12 folks each day for three different days later this month. They’re also looking for volunteers to hit up Abner Clay Park and the Science Museum of Virginia.

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Community

Goats Return and a Tree Fundraiser at Forest View Cemetery

Goats, radar, and a massive dead tree are what’s happening in the local once-forgotten cemetery.

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Friends of Forest View Cemetery are working to revitalize a forgotten cemetery 4909 Bassett Avenue. RVA Goats have been there a couple of times to fight the overgrowth and they’re back this week. The exciting reason that they’re back is to prepare the ground for Ground Penetrating Radar. With help from Enrichmond Foundation, the radar will be scanning the grounds in July which will give a much better picture of what lies beneath years of neglect. Hopefully, this will also locate the graves as all the grave markers are missing/buried.

The other bit of news is a new fundraiser to get work done on a massive dead tree. The plan is to have True Timber come in and remove the limbs from the dead tree, while maintaining 30 feet of the trunk for wildlife. These old trees provide the home very a large variety of critters and are an important part of our urban ecosystem.

You can make a donation to the tree effort here.

Previous Post on Forest View Cemetery:

Bonus Goat Picture

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