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Creating New Habitat for Threatened Birds

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In Minnesota, solar sites double as pollinator habitat with native plants feeding hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. (audubon.org)
In Minnesota, solar sites double as pollinator habitat with native plants feeding hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. (audubon.org)
 By Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN - Producer, Contact
October 9, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A new study from the Audubon Society shows the welfare of birds is closely linked to the quality of food and shelter found in their habitats.

Audubon's director of community conservation, John Rowden, said the study shows more than half of North American bird species are threatened by climate change. And before the century is over, they could lose more than 50 percent of their current ranges. To protect birds, he said emissions that cause climate change must be reduced, and humans can help in other ways by planting native grasses, trees and shrubs.

"We are working across the country to encourage and empower people to make their communities more bird friendly,” Rowden said. “And one of the best ways they can do that is by planting native plants."

The Audubon Society has created a database that allows those interested in planting bird-friendly native plants to plug in their zip code to learn about the native plants that grow in any particular area.

In Minnesota, solar farms have become an unexpected boon to pollinators such as hummingbirds, bees and butterflies after a law was passed that encourages the planting of native grasses and wildflowers in and around new solar photovoltaic facilities. Rob Davis, director of the clean energy group Fresh Energy, said it complements Minnesota's goal to generate 10 percent of its energy from solar by 2030.

"Folks have learned that actually establishing a flowering perennial meadow under and around a solar farm is the least-cost way to manage and maintain that vegetation,” Davis said.

Davis said as urbanization increases and natural habitats disappear, native plants help restore the environments birds need. And he noted that gardens can become a vital recharging station for birds.

"It's just a beautiful experience to walk around a pollinator-friendly solar farm, because there's so many monarchs, there's so many butterflies,” he said. “The wildlife is so much more interested in what's flowering and what's blooming in the habitat that they don't really care about you."

If you're looking for landscaping ideas this fall, Davis said native plants for the area include Allegheny serviceberry, alternate-leaf dogwood, black chokeberry and common winterberry.

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