Habitat Improvement Actions for Citizens, Landowners and Community Members

Having discussed two priority habitat threats within the urban environment, loss/ fragmentation due to development and degradation due to invasive species, this section focuses on what concerned citizens, landowners and community members can do for bird conservation within the metro area.


  • Transform urban spaces into bird habitats
  • Enhance nesting habitat
  • Transform small spaces into bird-friendly havens.
  • Incorporate bird conservation into agricultural practices

Conservation Strategy: Because of the unique pressures facing birds, and their habitats, in urban areas it is appropriate to utilize strategies that might not be feasible in larger, less-impacted landscapes. Working with volunteers and private landowners can go a long way towards accomplishing bird habitat conservation in the urban area. Incorporating native plants into home and corporate landscaping, providing bird feeders, nest boxes and platforms, and retaining naturally occurring elements such as multi-story canopy cover and standing dead trees, are all fairly easy and compatible ways to improve avian habitats on public and private lands in an urban landscape. Here are some bird specific habitat enhancement strategies for nesting habitat and transforming small spaces into bird-friendly havensxxxv.

Snag Retention

Standing dead trees are important for birds in both natural and landscaped settings. Significant emphasis should be placed on allowing for or retaining naturally occurring snags as an important habitat component within the environment. Snags provide nesting habitat for primary cavity nesters, such as woodpeckers, which in turn provide nesting and shelter habitats for secondary cavity nesters, such as bluebirds, wood ducks and owls. Safety considerations and invasive species management, such as controlling the emerald ash borer, need to be taken into account, but under the right conditions, snag retention is an easy way to promote habitat use by cavity nesters.

Nest Boxes and Structuresxxxv

Where snag retention is not feasible, nest boxes can help cavity nesters and nest structures can help other species. From a habitat standpoint, nest boxes- for American Kestrels, Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Ducks and Purple Martins, and nesting structures-- such as Osprey poles and Chimney Swift towers -- help compensate for the lack of natural nest sites and are vital to maintaining certain bird populations in the metro area. In addition, nest boxes provide outstanding educational opportunities when erected and/or maintained by schools, businesses, scout troops and other groups, or when they are placed in a conspicuous but safe setting.

Most nest boxes require regular maintenance so they are not invaded by exotic nuisance species such as European starlings and house sparrows. Given the need for maintenance, it is often better to manage land for natural cavities or place nest structures where they are easy to maintain, such as golf courses that have maintenance staff.

The chimney swift and the purple martin are two aerial insectivores that have experienced consistent population declines in Minnesota throughout the past forty yearsxxxvi. Building and maintaining nest structures for these species is a great way to increase their populations. Peregrine falcons, and possibly common nighthawks, benefit from gravel filled trays placed on building ledges, rooftops and tower structures, where they can lay their eggs without having them roll away. Most bird species that have benefitted from the placement of nest boxes and artificial nest structures have all been generally tolerant of human activity.

Structures can also be built for a number of species that breed in or close to lakes, rivers, marshes, ponds and adjacent upland habitats including: wood duck, mallard, hooded merganser, common loon, great blue heron, osprey, black tern, Forster's tern and cliff swallow. The black tern is a species that would benefit greatly from the proper placement and maintenance of adequately sized nest platforms in shallow wetlands and marshes.

Transforming Backyards

As wild land and open space are lost to development, birds and other wildlife are increasingly looking to yards and gardens for food and shelter. Homeowners can respond by creating mini - backyard refuges that help to both sustain and shelter songbirds. Homeowners should take an inventory of their backyard to see what elements already exist, then become familiar with the birds in their area and what habitats they prefer. All wildlife need space, food, shelter, and water. Native plants can provide the first three elements and a water source can be easily added by something as simple as shallow dishes, a bird bath or small pond. Enhancing a neighborhood of backyards can act as a collective effort and provide important links creating larger habitat corridors. The National Wildlife Federation has a well established Garden for Wildlife program that includes tips on making wildlife habitat at home.

Links to resources:

Audubon at Home -

National Wildlife Federation - Backyard Wildlife Habitat Programs -

Plant Conservation Initiative -

United States Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry -

Roadsides for Wildlifexxxvii

The MN DNR has a "Roadsides for Wildlife" program that encourages the use of existing, although small, grassland ditches along the sides of roads for ground nesting bird habitat. The program has three main objectives: 1) reducing disturbance such as mowing and spraying, until after the bird breeding season (August 1st); 2) incorporating native prairie species in roadside plantings; and 3) educating the public on the advantage of having an undisturbed and diverse roadside environment. Safety considerations and invasive species control efforts would also need to be addressed in implementing a roadside management program based on reduced mowing and clearing. A program like this would be best employed in areas outside of the urban core.

Links to Resources:

MN DNR Roadsides for wildlife

Corporate Campuses - Corporate Environmental Stewards

Sixteen of the Fortune 500 U.S. corporations are headquartered in the Twin Cities and they, along with other businesses, often own and maintain tracts of land that can be managed as habitat for birds and other wildlife. The Wildlife Habitat Council keeps a registry of corporate wildlife projects nationwide and is a good source of information. Some corporate sites in the metro area that actively manage wildlife include 3M, Flint Hills Resources, Aveda and Thomson Reuters.

The Eagan campus of Thomson Reuters formed a partnership with Audubon to restore native grasslands on their 292 acre corporate campus in Eagan. The project began in September 2009 and the restoration was implemented by conducting two separate plantings -- one for grasses and one for wildflowers. The overall cost for the restoration was approximately $10,000, much of which will be offset from reduced maintenance and watering. The project also included dozens of bluebird houses, chimneys swift towers and wood duck houses.

Golf Coursesxxxviii

Audubon International (not affiliated with the National Audubon Society) has developed a Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses outlining ways in which they can be more environmentally sustainable. The Cooperative Sanctuary Program offers guidance for golf courses interested in developing habitat conservation programs for their grounds and provides support for implementing such plans. In the Twin Cities this program is currently being coordinated by the Wood Lake Nature Center. To date there have been 25 Minnesota golf courses certified by the program, including at least 9 within the metro area.

To participate in the Cooperative Sanctuary Program, golf courses need to develop a resource management plan which includes a qualifying project. The project can be in any number of categories, from water clarity and conservation to providing wildlife habitat. For continued participation, enrolled golf courses must recertify their grounds every other year and the recertification process requires a new qualifying project. This structure allows for flexibility and offers conservation support and incentives to the golf course rather than setting strict standards that may not be initially achievable for some courses who seek certification. The Cooperative Sanctuary Program also applies to business campuses.

Links to resources:

Wildlife Habitat Council -

Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses -

Schoolyard Habitat

There are many environmentally-themed schools throughout the Twin Cities; some are charter schools with an environmental emphasis and others are schools in close proximity to open spaces ideal for outdoor classroom settings. Even athletic fields can serve as a great place for habitat enhancement on school grounds. Many of these schools have partnerships with Park Boards, or Audubon (chimney swift towers), and work in collaboration with the Minnesota Conservation Corps. Involving schools, students and teachers in creating habitat includes developing an environmental curriculum that has elements of math, science, reading, and writing all focused around a central environmental activity.

Links to resources:

Audubon Center of the North Woods -

National Wildlife Federation- Schoolyard Habitat Program -

USFWS Schoolyard Habitats Program -

University of MN - Schoolyard Ecology Explorations -


[img:30616|align:right|caption:]There are a variety of resources available for farmers to incorporate bird friendly practices into their agricultural practices: The Natural Resource Conservation Service(NRCS); The US Department of Agriculture- Farm Bill, Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program; the MN DNR Working Lands Initiative, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area Protection Program, and many others.

Some of the actions to incorporate bird conservation into agricultural practices include:

  • Plant alternative crops, such a winter wheat, that don't require harvesting or cutting during grassland bird nesting season
  • Leave a fallow field in the crop rotation or plant native prairie strips within an agricultural field
  • Plant a fallow field with native prairie
  • Prevent woody vegetation from becoming established in open grassland areas through prescribed burns, grazing or cutting.
  • Create shelterbelts and field edge buffers
  • Use no-till or low-till cultivation
  • Apply integrated pest management to reduce pesticide use

Links to resources:

Natural Resource Conservation Service

United Sates Department of Agriculture

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources -

The Nature Conservancy

Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area Program.

Conservation Actions for Habitat Enhancement

  • Enhance nesting habitat by providing nest boxes, retaining snags, utilizing nest structures in public spaces and integrate education with these actions.
  • Emphasize the value of maintaining and monitoring these nest boxes to ensure they are being used by the desired species and not over run by aggressive non-native species.
  • Transform small spaces into bird-friendly havens. Utilize native landscaping and avoid disturbance (mowing and spraying) during nesting season.
  • Incorporate bird conservation into agricultural practices
  • Provide educational materials to municipalities and individual homeowners to help guide creation of quality habitats on private property
  • Encourage creation of contiguous backyard habitats, leading to the assemblage of habitat corridor
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