Nov 6, 2020 | Featured Web Article

Leaf It Alone!

Fallen leaves attract and are fed upon by insects, which in turn are fed upon by birds such as robins, blackbirds, thrushes, bluebirds, catbirds, thrashers, and so on.

Autumn is a favorite season for many, with its kaleidoscope of colors, the arrival of wintering birds, and the crunching of leaves underfoot. We encourage you to enjoy the gifts of this season rather than spending time in your yard undertaking the traditional fall tasks of raking leaves and cleaning up garden and flowerbeds—the birds (and your back) will thank you!

Here are some tips on what you should let go and why doing so will benefit your backyard visitors:

  • Let your garden go. While it's hard to resist the urge to pull up all the dead tomato, squash, and other plants in your garden once the growing season is over, one of the birdiest places in your yard might be last summer's garden. The birds will relish the insects, seeds, and other food material that is left behind. Sparrows, towhees, and juncos like to skulk in the thick dead vegetation. While the garden may lack a certain tidiness, who cares if it's full of birds!
  • Let your lawn go. It's all about seedheads. If you stop mowing a section of your lawn in late summer and let the long grass go to seed, you will have your own natural bird food. Passing buntings, sparrows, and finches will thank you by spending time in your grass. Unmown lawn sections can attract pine siskins, juncos, goldfinches, and song, chipping, and field sparrows.
  • Let your leaves go. Leaving your fallen leaves alone helps your birds both directly and indirectly. The leaves trap and hold moisture from dew and rain, which helps keep your lawn from drying out. As the leaves break down (mowing over them can hasten this) they add valuable nutrients to the soil. Fallen leaves also attract and are fed upon by insects, which in turn are fed upon by birds such as robins, blackbirds, thrushes, bluebirds, catbirds, thrashers, and so on. A healthy lawn is always a birdy lawn.
  • Let your flowerbeds go. Leave plant debris and fallen leaves beneath shrubs and in perennial beds. The decaying matter will provide insulation for roots and bulbs beneath the soil as it replenishes nutrients.

If you can't let it go... consider keeping your yard waste rather than bagging it up and contributing to the millions of tons of solid waste that goes to the landfills each year. Here's what you can do with your debris:

  • Find a spot in your yard for fallen leaves and garden debris, preferably close to the cover of trees or shrubs, where you can allow the yard waste to decompose. It provides habitat for ground-dwelling birds, including quail and sparrows, which peck and scratch through it looking for insect eggs and the remains of seeds.
  • Build a brush pile, especially if your yard is a vast expanse of lawn. The best spot for it, from the birds' perspective, is halfway between the safety of trees or shrubs and your bird-feeding station. A brush pile will provide a safe stopping point between natural cover and your feeders, and encourage more visitors.
  • Share your leaves. Fallen leaves make excellent compost, and some communities will pick up your leaves to make compost that they can then sell or give away.

For more on "leaving the leaves" and other wildlife gardening tips, visit the National Wildlife Federation.

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The Latest Comments

  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021