Millions of miles of streams in the United States run through private land, and because many of North America's birds and wildlife need healthy streams and stream corridors to live, their fate is in the hands of private landowners.
If you have a stream, one good test for its health is this: How big are the trees around it? That's according to a recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society that is being incorporated into the playbook for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the agency that sets rules and manages incentives for private landowners attempting to safeguard wild ecosystems.
The key to a stream corridor's health is the height and width of the trees in the flood plain, according to the study. The higher and wider the trees, the more diversity of birds, including yellow warblers, song sparrows and yellow-breasted chats.
This is only the latest study to point out the essential role that riparian vegetation -- streamside plants, that is -- plays in ecosystem health. Not only does vegetation provide habitat for wildlife, but it holds stream banks in place, preventing erosion and degradation and filtering out some pollutants from ground and surface waters. If you have a stream, the single best thing you can do is plant appropriate native trees and shrubs in the first 100 feet or so of the bank. Often, you can get the right kinds of trees and shrubs free for spring or fall planting from local arms of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, university cooperative extensions or state fish and wildlife agencies.
Don't have so much land that you have your own idyllic stream? Not to worry. You can do a lot to create good bird habitat on your property, no matter how small (even, in many cases, if you rent). The National Audubon Society and The Daily Green teamed up recently to provide 25 bird conservation tips anyone can do, including 15 tips for making your garden friendly to birds and other wildlife. Try them.
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