Good Oak News

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Review: Birdscaping in the Midwest by Mariette Nowak

From time to time I hope to keep readers up on some of the great books available about ecological restoration and landscaping with native plants. Today I will tell you a bit about Birdscaping in the Midwest by Mariette Nowak.

Ms. Nowak begins this book by explaining why plants, specifically native plants are critical to the survival of our wild bird species. Basically, she makes the case that there are critical habitat issues which threaten the survival of many bird species in North America and that by landscaping with native plants we can start giving that habitat back. This section is followed by several inspirational stories of people across the Midwest who have done just that.

In the following chapters the author goes into some specific types of gardens for various types of birds. These include particular species such as hummingbirds and Eastern Blubirds but most of the garden types she introduces us to are more general, intended to replicate habitat such as prairies or woodlands for the species that inhabit these natural communities. Each of these chapters is intended to be a manual for constructing backyard habitat for birds that live in these communities.

While the information in these chapters is sound, I found that there was a lot of potential overlap, for example, should your yard be a woodland bird garden, a shrubland bird garden or a bluebird savanna bird garden? The answer may be "all of the above" or just one of these habitat types, depending on your yard. By delineating these habitats into particular habitat types she provides organization for the book but also ends up with a lot of duplicate and discontinuous information. The end result was that I found myself flipping back and forth between various chapters quite a bit. Very few people are going to find that their yard fits neatly into one potential habitat type or another, so any user of this book will likely make use of several chapters to develop their bird habitat plan. On the other hand this might force you to look at your property in new and interesting ways. In the end I suppose this is both a strength and a weakness.

Birdscaping in the Midwest includes a whole host of information such as lists of plant species with high value to birds to plant, recommendations for bird houses and feeders. In fact, there is so much information this could really be split up into several books, and I hope the author can go more in depth on some of these subjects in this book in future works. I found the book very informative and with my extensive knowledge of native plants I was able to visualize some of the habitat gardens she described and extrapolate new ideas for species and designs that would help meet the needs of birds. For those not familiar with plants or landscaping installation, there is still a lot to learn which is why she includes "Gardeners' Resources" in the back of the book. I just wish she had more field guides and native landscaping books in her list of resources because I feel most people are not going to have a very good grasp of the many plant species she recommends in this book

Overall, I highly recommend this book for any bird lover or anyone interested in native landscaping. I pull it off the shelf and use it as a reference quite regularly. It really helps you understand the connections between different wild organism (plants, insects, birds and more), teaching us that the plants are really just the foundation of native landscaping much of the magic is the animals that utilize these plants. Mariette Nowak provides a resource for native landscapers whether they want to specifically focus their property on their favorite bird species, or just want to make a more well-rounded backyard habitat.


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