Courtesy // Gabriele Agrillo

Bird Call: Welcome and nurture our feathered friends

By Andrea Yu

The sounds of birdsong in spring is something that Yousif Attia looks forward to every year.

“Birdwatching is so therapeutic for me,” says Attia, an outreach and content specialist at Birds Canada, a national bird conservation organization headquartered in the lakeside town of Port Rowan, Ont. “At its core. Birding satiated this human desire to connect with the natural world.”

And Attia is not alone. Since the pandemic, he has noticed a surge in birdwatching interest, particularly among millennials. “We’re seeing more people out there, especially folks from diverse backgrounds and people younger in age.”

For many birders, their pastime is a meaningful way to feel closer to nature and other people—which is especially significant for those who may feel marginalized. “If you see somebody your age or who looks like you and they’re birding, it gives you the feeling of, ‘This is a place or a space I could be part of as well,’” notes Attia. In Vancouver, where he lives, the group Birding with Me celebrates “diversity in bird and human communities.” They host free guided walks tailored to specific groups, including those who identify as women, BIPOC or 2LGBTQ+, and hold events in various languages, including Spanish, Mandarin and Filipino.

Birdwatching is not just enriching for bird enthusiasts; it can also have a positive impact on the birds themselves. Apps such as eBird allow users all over the world to log bird sightings in their local communities, which contributes to conservation decisions and research. Initiatives such as the Great Backyard Bird Count—an annual event which sees participants log the birds they see within a four-day period via eBird—can be done from home.

Having more birds around to admire is only one reason to help protect them. Canada has more than 420 specifies of birds that face a host of issues, from a reduction in habitat due to forest degradation to shifting migratory patterns affected by climate change. Autumn Jordan, an organizer at the Ottawa-based environmental non-profit Nature Canada, describes birds as an indicator species. “The biodiversity of our bird communities can really show us a snapshot of overall system health,” she notes. Some birds are pollinators, while fruit eaters help with seed dispersal. And birds play an important role in the food chain, too. “Owls are natural rat-eaters, and scavengers like crows and turkey vultures clean up our messes,” Jordan explains. “Warblers and barn swallows keep those nasty mosquitoes at bay.”

There’s a lot we can do in our own backyards to attract and protect our feathered friends. It can be tempting to clear out dead foliage, but Sarah Coulber, an education specialist at the Canadian Wildlife Foundation, says leaf litter is a spot where insects—a food sources for birds—can gather, and dried long grasses are used as nesting material. She encourages homeowners to find a balance between a manicured garden and a safe shelter for birds. “Maybe you can leave a back corner of your garden untidy.”

If using feeders to attract more birds to your yard, place them far from windows and bushes where predators can hide. Keeping bird feeders and bird baths clean is critical to help prevent the spread of avian flu. Coulber recommends cleaning them with unscented natural soap and water once a week.

Feeders are a supplemental food source, but birds rely on the greenery in your yard. “Native plants have co-evolved with wildlife,” explains Coulber. “Our native plants [bear] fruit that has the right proportion of fat to sugar that birds need to either overwinter or migrate.”

Fill your outdoor space with various beautiful native plants and flowers. If you build the right habitat, you won’t need to seek them out—the birds will come to you.