What do you have planned for World Migratory Bird Day? I’m sure you have it marked on your calendar as the day before Mother’s Day, right? In case it slipped your mind, this year, people in Canada and the United States celebrate our feathered friends on Saturday, May 11, and our mothers on Sunday, May 12. Flowers are a wonderful gift for both occasions.

In North America, May is the height of the avian spring migration. Birds appreciate flowers this time of year, not so much for their beauty as for their bugs. To a bird on the move looking for the right neighborhood to raise her summer brood, nothing says “happy migration” better than a flower garden full of juicy caterpillars. So delicious and nutritious!

Even staycation-minded songbirds who don’t migrate appreciate backyards busy with bees visiting buds and bouquets rather than a monotonous carpet of pesticide-perfect grass without a blade to spare for a beetle buffet. Bird feeders are nice, but for growing strong bones and beaks, parents are looking to feed their chicks a balanced diet, including grubs and insects. With all the time pressures of the modern world, even in families fortunate enough to have two caregivers working full time to bring food to the nest, overworked passerine parents have a hard time keeping up with the caloric demands of a big brood.

If you’d like to help improve the quality of life for both flyby fowl and permanent residents, here are a few ideas. You can start with a few flowers in pots to give flying insects some nectar and pollen to collect. If you have a yard or a garden, adopt an integrated pest management plan, following the principle of “think first, spray last.” Rather than applying broad-spectrum pesticides to kill every insect and tick on your property, learn about the types of invertebrates living around you and establish a healthy population that includes predators like spiders, centipedes, ladybird beetles — and birds.

Allowing a wider diversity of self-reliant plants (many of which are uncharitably characterized as “weeds”) to establish themselves provides a habitat for a wider variety of insects and other arthropods, which in turn supports a wider variety of birds. Obviously, you don’t want tall weeds growing up right next to your home or along pathways you use often, but what about in the back corners of your lot?

Even a small patch of unmowed lawn can provide an oasis for bugs and the birds that eat them. Many people know that milkweed and monarch butterflies go together, but this is just one of many mutual relationships found in nature. It can be a fascinating hobby to
discover who comes to visit when you provide new plants for your local ecosystem to enjoy.


Beyond your own neighborhood, you can help protect your local waterways by choosing nontoxic cleaning supplies. An easy way to help is to choose soap and shampoo that are full biodegradable. If you are on a septic system, this protects the microbial life underground that is processing your wastewater, ensuring that you’re returning nutrients and clean water to your surroundings. If you’re on city sewer, it’s even more important not to put toxins down the drain.

Effluent from your local wastewater treatment plant most likely ends up in a nearby river. A fun way to spend the Saturday before Mother’s Day is to participate in a global citizen science project: the Global Big Day. All you need to do is spend five to ten minutes looking and listening for birds, then report your observations to eBird.org online. Your reports help scientists better understand global bird populations. If you’re more ambitious, keep checklists of birds you spot throughout the day. This year’s Global Big Day goal is to collect more than 150,000 checklists.

However you celebrate it, World Migratory Bird Day is an opportunity to appreciate some of our finest fellow passengers on planet Earth, living reminders of the days of dinosaurs. It’s hard to fathom, but the decisions we are making today may strongly influence which species will still be here 65 million years in the future.

Fred Horch is principal adviser of Sustainable Practice. To receive expert action guides to help your household and organizations become superbly sustainable, visit SustainablePractice.Life and subscribe to “One Step This Week.”

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