By Rut Horman, Intern
Rain gardens, buffers, bioswales — these words have been heard more often in and around Philadelphia in recent years as TTF continues to take care of local water sources using these methods. We’re dedicated to clean water, as you might be able to tell since the word ‘watershed’ is in our name.
Along with education and advocacy, we get our hands dirty maintaining rain gardens, buffers, and bioswales in the TTF watershed, which includes portions of Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties. The native trees, grasses, and flowers planted capture and filter polluted stormwater runoff, reduce streambank erosion, and add aesthetic beauty.
Our projects within the watershed, such as the Jenkintown Creek Restoration Project, not only benefit the water coming from our tap, but also the local wildlife. Birds and insects make their homes in the rain gardens, buffers, and bioswales, and in turn, they provide other important services like the pollinating of plants. As urbanization, pesticide usage, domestic predators (think cats), and nonnative (sometimes invasive) plants increase, creating habitat for native wildlife is more important than ever.
While there are indeed birds that thrive in urban areas, or seem as ubiquitous as the American Robin pulling a worm from the lawn, many other bird species and the insects they eat depend more heavily, sometimes exclusively, on native plants. And although any avid birder automatically appreciates birds, those of us who can only identify five or so bird species actually depend on birds, too. Birds help with insect control in agriculture, pollination, seed dispersal, and much more, as documented in this article from the Audubon Society.
Conservation organizations like the Audubon Society encourage paying attention to the needs of birds by recognizing areas that provide food, shelter, nesting sites, and water as official bird habitat. Five TTF sites in the Jenkintown Creek Restoration Project (Ethel Jordan Park, Alverthorpe Park, Abington Friends School, Abington Monthly Meetinghouse, and Manor College) are recognized bird habitats and not only work to maintain our watershed but provide healthy places for birds.
Registered bird habitats come in all shapes and sizes. No matter the look and size, bird habitats all intentionally support birds and enable you to go bird watching in your front yard, back yard, or on your balcony! A registered bird habitat requires sustainable gardening on some scale, ideally without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
As noted in the application (also available as a Google form), only about 20% of any trees and shrubs present need to be native and efforts should be made to alleviate window collisions for birds. And of course, the birds require sources of food and water, as well as cover and potential nesting sites. TTF’s registered bird habitat rain gardens and buffers near Jenkintown Creek are as wild as any deer-fenced and strategically planted area can be. While your bird habitat may be a balcony full of native flowers, a nesting box, and bird bath. Dream big, start small, and enjoy the beauty and life of native plants and the birds and insects that need them!
Not sure where to start? Audubon has helpful tips about gardening with birds in mind here. Learn more at our Lawn to Meadow Workshop on November 14 in Jenkintown. This program will be presented by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council in partnership with sponsors Abington Township Environmental Advisory Council, Friends of High School Park, Jenkintown Environmental Advisory Committee, Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust, Sustainable Cheltenham, and Wyncote Audubon Society.
Special thanks to our Wyncote Audubon Society partners for their ongoing support and collaboration.