Efforts are underway to enhance habitat for birds in Evanston. The effort is important for us humans.

This week at the Evanston Ecology Center, residents will focus on how to welcome birds to our City parks and home gardens. “Planting a tree is a perfect opportunity to learn about the environment and spend some quality time outdoors in nature,” says Patrick Fitzgerald, senior director of community wildlife for the National Wildlife Federation. “Trees support clean air and water, increase property values and provide needed food (like nuts and berries) and cover for wildlife.”

Perched on the Great Lakes migratory flyway, Evanston is a crucial stop for birds.  Under pressure from insecticides, habitat loss, and a changing environment, migratory birds like the Canada warbler refuel in Evanston parks and backyards. 

Green space is also crucial for humans.  The University of Washington has compiled an impressive body of urban greening research.  Exposure to urban trees reduces stress, improves mental and physical health, and lowers crime, according to the University of Washington compilation.  Trees improve air and water quality, absorbing pollutants, filtering contaminants, reducing flooding and erosion, and slowing evaporation. Shoppers linger on tree-lined streets and spend more. Home values are higher in leafy neighborhoods. Trees even help lower energy costs by providing shade in the summer – reducing air conditioning costs – and acting as wind breaks in the winter.

The City of Evanston has long protected trees on public property.  The City and community created Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, two acres used by 107 species of migratory birds, a quarter of them in need of conservation, according to Judy Pollock, a local bird expert.

But Evanston is not entirely an oasis.  Insecticides, outdoor cats, invasive plants, reflective glass, and other obstacles meet many of these arriving birds.  Evanston birders estimate that window glass alone accounts for as many as 25,000 bird deaths per year in Evanston.

“The City, oftentimes led and encouraged by active residents and civic organizations, is working collaboratively to support healthy natural habitats for wildlife in Evanston and residents eager to take advantage of City parks and green space,” according to Kumar Jensen, City Environmental Project Coordinator. “The City sees value in managing public lands in ways that allow native plants to thrive which in turn allow more birds and wildlife to thrive alongside Evanston residents.”

During the last year the City, with encouragement from Natural Habitat Evanston, took more steps: it joined the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge committing to help pollinators by enhancing natural habitat, eliminating certain toxic insecticides, and taking other steps. The City is pressing state legislators to allow local regulation of insecticides, which would require a change in state law. The Evanston weed ordinance is on course to remove milkweed and other wildlife-friendly plants from the restricted list. Finally, the City certified five parks and community gardens as habitat, pushing Evanston closer becoming a National Wildlife Federation community habitat for birds and pollinators. Natural Habitat Evanston, a program of Evanston nonprofit Citizens’ Greener Evanston, is encouraging community certification as a platform to talk with the community about sustainable gardening, native plants, and the needs of birds and pollinators.

“After Mayor Tisdahl signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, the City moved to take more intentional efforts to conduct habitat restoration on land owned by and leased by the City,” says Mr. Jensen. “Strategically maintaining these lands in ways that promote native habitats and migratory birds helps the City fulfill requirements in the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge as well as demonstrate a commitment to habitat restoration locally.”

The City secured a $100,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chi-Cal Rivers Fund, matched by City and private contributions, to enhance bird habitat in the Ladd Arboretum and four nearby parks and establish a demonstration garden near the Civic Center. The City, Judy Pollock Consulting, Living Habitats and Environment Board member Wendy Pollock are organizing the two-year City of Evanston North Shore Channel Habitat Project. Those interested in volunteering should contact Ms. Pollock at wendy.pollock@gmail.com.

On Sunday, Natural Habitat Evanston and its partners will share resources on sustainable gardening, native plants, solutions to bird-window collisions, certifying Evanston as a community habitat, joining the City Habitat Project and more. There will be a scavenger hunt for kids and a bird walk facilitated in Spanish and English.  Free wildlife-friendly saplings go to the first 50 attendees, first come, first served.  About a dozen local schools and places of worship will receive hundreds more saplings to enhance their gardens. The shrubs are donated by the National Wildlife Federation Trees for Wildlife® program.  May Festival for the Birds, May 7 at 2-4 p.m., at the Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd.

All are steps to helping birds and people.