Bird-Friendly Communities

Leave the Leaves for Birds

Fallen leaves have many benefits

Fall is not the time to get out the rake and leaf blower to start removing your leaves. It is time to leave your leaves for birds until the spring when you can mulch them with a mower. Throughout the fall and winter birds such as American Robins, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, and White-throated Sparrows flip leaves in search of food. Leaf cover improves their odds of finding protein-rich invertebrates such as beetles, earthworms, and millipedes, which seek shelter under the security of leaves. Leaves also provide food and shelter toads, frogs, salamanders, lizards and turtles.

Leaving leaves saves you money on fertilizers, herbicides, and bags of wood chips. Allowing leaves to naturally decay in garden beds while mulch-mowing them into the lawn releases nutrients, improving soil fertility. Leaves retain soil moisture for grass root development in winter, resulting in an early response when growing season arrives. Leaves form mulch that suppresses weeds and protects dormant plants from the cold.

Your lawn service business or neighborhood association may want you to clear your leaves but don’t give in. I have not had a problem leaving leaves for 40 years. My leaves are on the lawn just as they fall; winter winds keeps them from piling and compacting. I never use fertilizer, mulch, or water for my grass. My lawn is for the birds and other wildlife. If you receive questions or complaints, it is an opportunity for education. Besides the benefits above, tell people that you are doing it for the birds you care about. They too should care that we are losing 4% of our birds per year, while there are 40% fewer birds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico now than just 10 years ago! How can we help these birds? By taking actions in our own yards and in our own lives, where we have the power to do things differently.

So consider overcoming your anxieties about leaving the leaves on your lawn for the good of the birds and our shared environment. Do something else with all the time you save not raking, blowing, bagging, and hauling, like going birding instead. Leaves are for the birds.

Posted with permission from Jerry W. Davis, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Hot Springs, AR.

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