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In this issue:  Learn why you shouldn't put your garden to bed, and see the newest featured site. 
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The Dirt: News from YardMap
Joining together to break new ground for birds
Early Fall 2014

American woodcock
Leaf litter can help insulate the soil when colder temperatures persist. Some birds, like this American woodcock, rely on unfrozen patches of soil to probe for insects. Photo by Fyn Kynd via Flickr

 Consider Winter Wildlife Before Putting Your Garden to Bed

Your garden has turned out its last vegetable or fruit of the season. All the flowers have lost their blooms and now showcase brownish seeds. Some shrubs may look a bit wild and unruly with far-reaching limbs, and every day more and more leaves cover the ground. This is a time of year when folks like to "tidy" things up a bit around their properties by raking and bagging leaves, cutting down gardens, and trimming back trees and shrubs. What if we told you that it's more beneficial to wildlife not toengage in a fall cleanup of your yard? That's right, put the rake down and enjoy a glass of apple cider instead.

Most of the vegetation on your property supplies food for wildlife, especially birds, in several ways. Not only do plants produce berries and seeds that birds eat, but they also attract and support insects that are an essential part of their diet. Even when the temperatures drop to an inhospitable level for insects, the adults, larvae, and eggs overwinter on leaves (including leaf litter), stems, and branches. During winter, many birds forage for these seemingly hidden insects for protein and sustenance. You can help by not bagging up your leaves, but instead leave them scattered throughout your yard or gently rake them near key locations on your property, such as a compost pile or under shrubs and trees. Try not to create big mounds of leaves as this can restrict access to the ground, and some birds still need to root around in the leaves or probe the soil to reach insects. 

In addition to stashing precious insects, your flowers and tall grasses provide seeds, which are an essential food source during cold periods. Leave the goldenrods, asters, and other flowers standing until early spring to keep your winter residents well fed. Refrain from trimming berry-producing trees and shrubs to increase fruit availability for birds during winter. If trimming is necessary, save the limbs and create a brush pile. This is a great way to provide cover habitat. Cover habitat provides birds a place to hide from predators, take shelter from harsh weather, and take a much needed rest during migration. Maximize a brush pile's value to birds by placing it near a bird feeder. In addition, flowers, bunch grasses, and vegetable gardens left standing throughout fall and winter also provide critically important cover habitat for birds and other wildlife.
State of the Birds Report

The State of the Birds Report 2014

The State of the Birds Report for 2014 was released on September 9, by the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, including the Cornell Lab. This important document includes a Watch List of species, including common birds, that are in serious decline, as well as habitat assessments. Visit http://www.stateofthebirds.org/ to view the full report and download a PDF. 

New Featured Site: 
Berwyn, PA,
Northeast Oasis

Grouping a variety of plants together, as pictured here, enhances habitat value to wildlife. Photo by gmheck.

Glancing through gmheck’s photo gallery on YardMap, you might think he lives inside a nature preserve. Complete with a stream, ponds, a rock pile, and gorgeous groupings of trees, shrubs, flowers, and bunch grasses, it’s hard to fathom that this property is only half an acre and is nestled in a suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania. In addition to having an abundance of beautiful wildlife habitat throughout their property, the Heck’s also have two rain barrels and a compost pile to help conserve resources and improve soil quality. Read more about the Northeast Oasis. 
 
The new citizen-science blog has a new feature each week.

Visit the New
Citizen-Science Blog 

The citizen science department at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has launched a brand new blog. Enjoy features such as photo slideshows, interactive articles, interesting factoids, and suggestions on how you can help birds. Subscribe now to get email notifications when we post new content!

Questions?

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at http://www.birds.cornell.edu.

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