Volume 25 Issue 1, Winter 2020
by Anne Owen, Coordinator, Audubon at Home
There have been some truly shocking reports in recent years of steep declines in insect and bird populations. A 25-year study of flying insects in nature preserves across Germany showed an astonishing 76% decline in biomass. We all know that a car journey in the summer months no longer results in a windshield smeared with squashed bugs. New research published in the journal Science reported a nearly 30% decline in wild bird populations in the continental U.S. and Canada since 1970.
Each of us has the opportunity to make a difference by managing our own outdoor spaces in a way that supports native wildlife here in Loudoun County. That’s where the Audubon at Home (AAH) Program comes in: Our trained volunteer AAH Ambassadors can provide information and practical recommendations to get started on establishing and nurturing healthy habitat for native wildlife.
AAH’s approach focuses on the three things that wildlife needs to thrive — water, food, and shelter, for protection, survival, and to raise young. We also recognize the need to provide these things throughout the year to support the various life-cycle stages. For example, we see fireflies for just a few short weeks in the summer, but for the rest of the year they need habitat (undisturbed fallen leaf litter) for their eggs and larvae to develop and grow.
A key part of the AAH mission is to advocate for the use of native plants. Our local native wildlife has evolved alongside our native trees and plants, and they have developed many wonderful adaptations to coexist. Around 70% of native bee species are specialists that can only use the pollen and nectar from specific native plants. In turn, those plants are dependent on those specific bees for pollination. So, to preserve the diversity of native bee species, we need to ensure the diversity of the native plants on which they depend. Similarly, it’s well known that the charismatic Monarch butterfly can only use milkweed for its caterpillars, but many other butterflies and moths also need specific plants for reproduction. In turn, many of our breeding birds are dependent on caterpillars to feed their chicks — a single pair of chickadees needs between 6,000 and 9,000 to feed a single brood! Native plants really do form the basis of healthy habitat.
On the other hand, there are a number of non-native plants that have escaped into our environment and now grow so vigorously that they crowd out native plants and offer little in the way of nourishment to wildlife. Some of the most common in our area are Japanese Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, English Ivy, and Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus). AAH Ambassadors can help identify these plants and offer ways to deal with them.
The Audubon at Home Program is open to residential and commercial properties, homeowner associations, schools, places of worship, parks, and other potentially sustainable wildlife habitats, both public and private. Our goal is for each property to become a Certified Wildlife Sanctuary. There are three simple requirements for certification.
• Your property needs at least two critical habitat features — a source of water, a pollinator garden, a meadow, or a rain garden.
• You need to sign our Healthy Yard Pledge that you will use good practices in managing your property for the benefit of wildlife, for example, minimizing the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers.
• You need to observe at least 10 of our “Sanctuary Species” on your property. These are species that breed in Loudoun and are in need of assistance to continue to thrive in the face of rapid
development in the county.
We will be delighted to hear from you, whatever the size of your property — from a balcony to many acres — and also whether you feel that you already qualify as a Wildlife Sanctuary or are just starting out on the journey to support Loudoun’s wildlife.
To find out more about Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Audubon at Home Program and to download an application form, please click here.
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is a partner with the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia to deliver the Audubon at Home program in our area.