Food and cover. Birds will visit a place that offers something to eat and a place to hide. A diversity of plants will provide both of these.
Water. Birds need to drink, and some enjoy the opportunity to bathe. A pond or birdbath will attract more birds and increase the range of activities they engage in. The birdbath in That Yard features nearby perches, good visibility, and easy access to cover. A water spinner attracts birds while deterring mosquitoes. It’s not unusual to see birds fighting for a turn to bathe!
Nesting opportunities. Birds will stay longer if there’s a place to build a nest and materials to build it with. While some birds nest high in trees, many prefer to nest in shrubs. Moss, tall grass, and old leaves all make good nesting materials.
Safety from predators. Dense cover, such as that provided by evergreens, helps keep birds safe from predators. So does keeping cats indoors: housecats kill billions of birds every year.
Other birds. Ironically, birds are attracted by other birds. Be patient – your first few feathered visitors will encourage others to come join them!
Deep ecology is a philosophy that states one may only harm others in order to serve vital needs.
A deep ecologist would say it’s acceptable to kill a plant or animal in order to eat it. It would also be okay to kill a bear that’s trying to eat you. Killing a bear for a hunting trophy, however, would not be seen as ethical.
This philosophy has existed for thousands of years in cultures around the world, and is part of how those cultures were able to live sustainably. It was reformulated in the 1970’s and became known as deep ecology.
Deep ecology points out that functioning natural areas are valuable because they provide ecosystem services. However, it cautions against using this as the basis for protecting nature: if feasible artificial substitutes for ecosystem services became available, we would be free to take as many resources from nature as we wished. Instead, deep ecology advocates seeing nature as inherently valuable, or as having the inherent right to its own existence. To respect these rights, people should take from nature only what is necessary for their own survival.
A book about deep ecology can be found in the Madison library system or on Amazon.
Largely, the idea started in Wisconsin. It is important to remember, however, that natural yards are not a new idea. Lawns represent only a brief period in the history of land care practices.
The idea of natural yards is supported by Aldo Leopold’s famous essay The Land Ethic. In this essay, Leopold says that land – including soil, water, plants, and animals – is part of our community and should be treated with respect. People are responsible for protecting the health of land, but are members of the community alongside it, not its masters. Leopold developed the ideas in this essay while living near Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Lorrie Otto noticed that a lot of birds were dying in her neighborhood outside Milwaukee in the 1960’s. The main cause was DDT, and she worked to stop the spraying of this toxic pesticide. At the same time, she made her yard more welcoming to birds by restoring it to a prairie-like landscape. Her efforts inspired the formation of the Wild Ones, a national non-profit organization promoting natural yards.
Natural yards have become more common in Wisconsin over the last several decades. They will likely continue to increase in popularity here and across the United States.
It depends what you mean by “before”.
The previous homeowner – or even the same homeowner, in a different stage of life – may have had a turf grass lawn. This was the dominant aesthetic in the 1950’s and the following decades.
In more-recently developed areas, what’s now a residential yard could have been farmland just a few years ago.
If the yard was a yard in the 1940’s, it may have held a Victory Garden. During World War II, growing vegetables in one’s yard was seen as a very patriotic thing to do.
In the early 1800s, when Europeans arrived in Wisconsin, they found prairies with grasses up to nine feet tall, and savannas where oak trees were interspersed with shorter prairie plants.
10,000 years ago, much of Wisconsin was covered by a glacier. What’s now a yard in Madison would have been under a mile of ice!