Joyce Hinnefeld


Monday, September 1, 2008

Birds and Lawns

My husband is out taking pictures of a tree in our back yard right now. In early June, this tree, a big old tulip poplar, was struck by lighting. There’s now a big, exposed gash in the central part of the trunk, and the tree is clearly dying. We thought at first we could wait it out—that the tree might make it, and we wouldn’t have to cut it down. But now every single tree person we’ve consulted has said it has to come down. Our house is inside the city limits of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But we live in a small, old development with lots of big old trees; though there are some smooth, cultivated lawns, most people have big stands of trees in their front or back yards, or both. But most houses have an acre or less of land, and so we have neighbors, and this dying tulip poplar is right on the edge of one neighbor’s property, near her house.

We hear wood thrushes in the trees around our house each summer. This summer I was pretty sure they were nesting in a tree or trees in our yard; I heard them without even leaving the house. The July-August 2008 issue of Audubon magazine has two articles about wood thrushes, one about their northern nesting, in this case in Vermont, the other about their winter lives to the south, in this case in Belize. There are lovely images and moving accounts of naturalists and bird lovers working on behalf of the wood thrush and other species in both articles. But there’s also a really disturbing statistic: over the last 40 years, the number of wood thrushes in the United States and Canada has dropped by 48 percent.

Now, on the first day of September, our yard is covered with leaves from this old tulip poplar. It’s clearly dying—lots more branches full of leaves turning brown. By late fall, we’ve been told, it will have to come down. It breaks my heart to think of cutting down a tree, and I really don’t like to think about how it will affect my daughter, who hates any and all changes of this kind.

It’s a peculiar project, this attempt to put together homes and lawns and woods. The birds aren’t just here for our entertainment. When you might be on the verge of depriving a family of wood thrushes of a good place for their nest the next year, that’s the kind of thing you think about.

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