by Dottie Head, Director of Membership & Communications
Students and teachers, along with staff from Atlanta Audubon and Convivial Landscapes, worked together on Wednesday, November 20 to install a bird-friendly native plant garden at Heritage Academy in south Atlanta as part of a year-long program to prepare students to become better stewards of our shared environment.
To date, Atlanta Audubon has worked with seven schools through the Connecting Students with STEM through Birds Program, including Boyd Elementary, Cleveland Academy, Continental Colony Elementary, Emma Hutchinson Elementary, Heritage Academy, Main Street Academy, and Usher-Collier Elementary. In addition, Fickett Elementary has also been selected for the 2019-20 school year, and installation of their garden is scheduled for later this year.
With generous funding through the Morgens West Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, and Atlanta Audubon members, Connecting Students with STEM through Birds is a comprehensive elementary school program.for federally designated Title I schools in the metro area. Each school receives a bird-friendly outdoor learning area featuring native plants that allows teachers to extend learning outside of the traditional classroom. Atlanta Audubon partners with Convivial Landscapes, LLC, an ecological landscaping company, to select plants and to design and install the garden on school grounds with the help of students and teachers. Additionally, each school receives a classroom set of binoculars, bird- and nature-themed books for the school library, student programming by Atlanta Audubon, and professional development for teachers. Throughout the school year, Atlanta Audubon staff will visit the school to conduct bird-banding demonstrations and other programs to help teach and engage the students with birds and the environment.
“Students are always excited to participate in the garden installations, says Melanie Furr, Atlanta Audubon director of education. “When I return to the schools for programming during the year, the students are eager to point out what they planted and share what they have seen in the garden. I often have students tell me they wish they could go outside and go birding every day. I tell them that they can! Birds are everywhere if we just stop and look.”
Today’s youth will grow up to become tomorrow’s policy experts, decision makers, and community advocates, says Furr. By creating a bird-friendly habitat at the school, Atlanta Audubon is providing a means for the students and the community to learn more about the natural world around them. As students and educators learn more about their local ecosystems and the issues affecting them, they naturally become better environmental stewards.
Atlanta Audubon Society is building places where birds and people thrive. We create birds -friendly communities through conservation, education, and advocacy.
by Georgia LaMar, volunteer sanctuary certifier
When did you decide to make your home an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary? I started gardening for wildlife with native plants after hearing a speech by Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Once I fully understood how essential native plants are for birds and pollinators, I was so excited to get started with planting. Finding out that Audubon completely understood the importance of natives was just a gift! I hope to get the neighbors on board with the Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary sign.
How would you describe your style? My goal is to learn enough about native plants and to arrange them in a way that attracts and doesn't repel my neighbors. I want to win them over. My main goal is to spread the idea of planting natives by having a beautiful yard filled with natives. We need to educate others about the importance of what we're doing in our gardens.
What is the one plant you can’t do without? I love my frogfruit (phyla nodiflora) It was so easy to grow and there are little bees and pollinators on it all summer long. It's a host plant, too! https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=phno2
What plant gives you the most bang for the buck? I love the insects that come to my Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) the bees, damselflies, and beautiful wasps are amazing.
Do you have a favorite trick? I'm trying to learn which plants you can cut back and when. I LOVE the tall elegance of our natives, but when they completely flop over that can be difficult. This year I cut my Canada goldenrod way back and by September it looked great. It wasn’t flopping at all. It was still tallish, which I like. The general rule I've heard is to cut back before July 4th to make sure you don't interfere with blooming. Now I need to find out which of my other natives can handle being cut back early in the spring to prevent flopping later in the season.
Note: You can follow Leslie’s journey on Facebook @pollinatorfriendlylandscapes.
To learn more about certifying your yard as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, please visit our website.
by Dottie Head, Director of Membership & Communications
Atlanta Audubon has awarded a Habitat Restoration Fund Grant to the Little Creek Farm Conservancy for habitat restoration work at the Little Creek Horse Farm and Park, in DeKalb County. As part of the grant, Atlanta Audubon will work with the Conservancy to restore a creek bank and create a bird- and wildlife-friendly habitat in an under-utilized meadow area along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek in the north-central portion of the park. The Atlanta Audubon Habitat Restoration Grant is made possible through the generosity of a private donor.
Located at 2057 Lawrenceville Highway in Decatur, the Little Creek Horse Farm and Park is a 40-acre site that encompasses an equestrian facility and greenspace for local residents to enjoy. The South Fork of Peachtree Creek traverses the property from its east to the west borders. The property was designated as a DeKalb County park in 2004 and is one of the last remaining horse stables inside the Atlanta perimeter.
The Little Creek Farm Conservancy, formed in 2007, partners with DeKalb County to provide stewardship of the park and to offer educational, environmental, and recreational outreach programs and events for the public. DeKalb County Parks and Recreation offers operational support, maintains facilities, and provides land upkeep. They are also responsible for animal care.
As part of the grant, Atlanta Audubon will remove invasive plants along the creek bank and meadow and install site-appropriate, native plants. Atlanta Audubon and Little Creek Farm Conservancy will also explore other opportunities enabled by the habitat restoration project like bird species abundance monitoring, community outreach programs, and Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary Certification.
“Atlanta Audubon is eager to work with the Little Creek Farm Conservancy to restore the creek bank and create a bird-friendly garden in the meadow area that is filled with native plants that are good for birds and other wildlife,” says Adam Betuel, Atlanta Audubon director of conservation.
“Little Creek Farm Conservancy is deeply grateful to the Atlanta Audubon Society for this opportunity to restore an underutilized park area with native plants suitable to support a broad diversity of wildlife,” says Project Lead, Bobbi Woolwine, Little Creek Farm Conservancy. “This sanctuary is a gift for the community to enjoy and learn about nature. Adam and I are already planning Atlanta Audubon guided bird walks.”
Established in 2018, the Atlanta Audubon Habitat Restoration Grant aims to increase high quality habitat for birds while also increasing community partnerships and educational outreach. Past projects include Henderson Park, in Tucker, and Candler Park Conservancy for work at Candler Park. To learn more about applying for the Atlanta Audubon Habitat Restoration Fund Grant, visit www.atlantaaudubon.org/habitat-restoration-fund.
By Melanie Furr, Director of Education
September marked one year since Sibley came into my care as an Atlanta Audubon education ambassador, a few months after our very first ambassador, Shep, joined the flock. Although I had always aspired to create a live bird ambassador program when I joined the organization almost six years ago, I never imagined I would become the (world’s only?) caregiver for non-flighted Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in education. Although Shep’s time with us was too short, getting an intimate look at Sibley’s life during the course of the past year—and sharing him with others through education programs—has been a joy and a privilege.
Caring for a non-releasable hummingbird is a little different than caring for hawks, owls, and other wild birds typically used in education programs that can generally be left alone. Although he is self-feeding, I never leave Sibley unattended for more than a few hours to ensure that he always has access to his feeders. (Thank goodness for family and friends that help with bird-sitting.) With legs that are too short for walking, hummingbirds that can’t fly have very limited mobility, but Sibley manages quite well. He can sidestep along his perches, and he flutter-hops to get from one perch to another. Because he spends all his time on his feet, he has a variety of perches of different widths and textures to minimize potential foot problems. Silicone bracelets, which offer some cushion, are a favorite. He divides most of his time between two large terrariums situated in sunny windows at my home and at the Atlanta Audubon office, where he can watch the birds and enjoy the view. He has a smaller carrier for riding in the car, which I strap behind the seatbelt on the booster seat I have fashioned so that he can look out the windows. Between our regular commute and driving to programs and meetings, Sibley really gets around town, and he definitely recognizes our regular routes. He perks up whenever we approach my neighborhood or the office, which shouldn’t be too surprising for a bird that is able to navigate across open ocean during migration.
Not flying hasn’t slowed Sibley’s appetite. Like other hummingbirds, he has a naturally high metabolism and eats close to three times his body weight daily (at four grams, he weighs just a little more than a penny). He has distinct taste preferences, too. His primary diet is a nectar made from a powder (imported from Germany) that is fortified with protein, vitamins, and minerals to provide the nutrition he needs since he can’t catch insects. Each morning, I also grind up non-flighted fruit flies and mix them with his nectar for added protein. (People ask why I don’t offer fruit flies or other small insects for him to catch in his enclosure, but hummingbirds don’t glean insects with their beaks. Instead they have a surprisingly wide gape for gulping down insects in flight.) Sibley prefers the plain nectar to his “bug juice,” but he doesn’t drink either as greedily as he guzzles down the sugar water that I give him at bedtime each night. His crop, the muscular sac near the throat that temporarily stores food, bulges like a water balloon after he takes his fill. I wondered about this behavior, as Shep never seemed to fill his crop like Sibley, and did some research into hummingbird crops. Interestingly, studies with Anna’s Hummingbirds showed that because larger meals increase body mass, and therefore flight cost, birds that are territory owners tend to optimize food intake, feeding for shorter periods and filling their crops less full. Individuals without territories that may be chased away at any time, however, minimize potentially risky intrusions by ingesting as much nectar as possible when they get a chance to feed. Silly Sibley, slow down--you have free refills and no competition!
Meeting Sibley’s daily needs to keep him healthy is just a small part of his care requirements. Equally important is providing enrichment to keep him stimulated and active. When the weather is nice, Sibley spends time in an enclosure on my screened porch, where he can enjoy the breeze and the bird sounds. I also take him on walks (carrying him on a small tray), provide fresh native flowers for him to taste, and add color to his enclosure with fresh greenery. When I can find them, I catch small spiders from their webs, usually with a pencil, and dangle them in front of Sibley for him to eat. Sibley has learned what’s coming when he sees the pencil and perks up excitedly, ready to wolf down his snack. One of his favorite activities is taking a bath, which he accomplishes by wiggling on leaves misted with water. (You can see Sibley catching spiders and taking baths on social media using hashtag #survivorsibley.) Providing enrichment is more challenging in winter, when the garden is dormant and the temperatures are too cold to go outside. I’ll continue to add new perches and greenery to keep him stimulated, and we’ll probably make more use of the swing that I have fashioned for his enclosure. “Sibley’s room” (my office) will have an extra space heater to make sure he stays toasty, and we’ll crank it up during baths to keep him comfortable. I’ll place a heating pad under half of his terrarium for extra warmth at night. Fortunately, winters in Georgia don’t last too long.
Aside from having an up-close look at a hummingbird’s life, what has been most rewarding about caring for Sibley has been developing a relationship of trust with him and having the opportunity to share him with others. Sibley knows and responds to my voice, and readily steps into my hand or hops onto a perch when I need to move him, though I don’t handle him unnecessarily. (Although he trusts me completely, he is still a wild bird and doesn’t enjoy being touched.) He knows our routines but is comfortable in new surroundings as well. Once nervous around crowds, he is now completely at ease around people, even preening in front of an audience. And he does draw and audience! Whether we are stopped by passersby as we are walking into the Atlanta Audubon office, speaking at a garden club or school, or attending a festival with hundreds of visitors, Sibley never fails to make an impression. And while people are admiring him, I have the opportunity to talk to them about why they shouldn’t use pesticides or buy nectar with red food dye or why they should turn off unnecessary lighting at night and add native plants to their yards, as well as other ways to protect birds. Seeing this tiny, but mighty individual is both educational and inspiring, and I am grateful for opportunity to be inspired by him daily.
If you are interested in scheduling a program with Ambassador Bird Sibley, please visit our website.