Adopt an Urban Waterfront
Woodpeckers, salamanders, deer, hawks, salmon, bats, and flying squirrels may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of life in the big city. Many urban rivers and streams have been channelled or replaced with cement sluiceways and culverts. Fields, forests, and marshlands that once a bounded with wildlife have given way to industrial developments, apartment blocks, and residential areas. And many towns and cities spew untreated sewage directly into rivers and oceans.
Valuable habitat still remains on the shores of cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Charlottetown. The largest urban park in North America lies alongside the Rouge River, an essentially wild ecosystem near Toronto. Here are some suggestions on how to reclaim an urban waterfront for wildlife:
- Organize a shoreline cleanup crusade. Plastic bags, cigarette butts, six-pack rings, broken glass, and other debris take a huge toll on creatures that choke when they mistake trash for food or get entrapped in or injured by it. Large debris like car engines, bicycles, and washing machines can block streams and damage the habitat of wildlife like muskrats, turtles, and trout. Monitor the site regularly after the cleanup.
- Keep off the grass. Conventional landscaping with sprawling, green turf and native plants cleared to the water’s edge causes erosion and eliminates wildlife habitat. Pesticides from urban lawns and parks make their way into water bodies, where they kill valuable plants and insects, while fertilizers foul aquatic ecosystems by causing algae to grow out of control. Inform waterfront dwellers and municipal parks authorities of the effects of their actions. Although they may be reluctant to have their sod transformed into shoreline buffer zones, they may agree to leave an uncut strip of grass along the banks. Mice and voles will roam in this miniature jungle, rabbits will munch on clover and grass, and swallows will swoop for flying insects.
- Remember, a buffer is a shore’s best friend. A vegetation buffer may not be practical on an urban waterfront, but a shoreline meadow can offer food and shelter to pollinating insects, ground-nesting birds, and countless other species while keeping pesticides and fertilizers out of waterways. Transform a high-maintenance, chemical-gulping lawn into a natural community of grasses and wildflowers. Clear the area by tilling 15 to 20 cm deep. In spring, seed with clover, fescue, switchgrass, asters, lupines, butterfly weed, or other plants suited to your region. Avoid using commercial wildflower mixes, which often contain invasive species.
- Use sign language. Post signs along the shoreline that encourage cyclists to stay on designated trails, passers-by to protect the ecosystem, and other visitors not to dump.
Give Purple Martins an Urban Residence
Condominium living isn’t for every bird, but purple martins like it just fine. These winged acrobats, known for their gentle manner and healthy appetite for bugs, will return to the same multiunit nesting structure each year. Building a home for them can be one of the most rewarding of all shoreline projects.
- Maximize your chances of success by locating your purple martin dwelling near open water, in an area already occupied by the birds. Install it at least 9 m away from trees, so the martins can swoop down to the entrance holes from all sides.
- Use 3/4” plywood for inside partitions and outside walls. Use 1/2” plywood for the roof and floor sections.
- See Diagram I for the basic components and measurements of a three-level dwelling.
- Cut four of section A to make a roof and three floors. Cut six each of sections B, C, and E for walls and partitions. Cut three of section D.
- Drill a few small ventilation holes near the upper edge of each B piece.
- Cut two entrance holes 5.5 cm diameter in each C piece. The holes should be 2.5 cm from the bottom edge. One hole should be about 5 cm from the left edge and the other 5 cm from the right edge.
- Diagram II shows how to put the structure together. Use 4 cm coated flat-head screws. They’ll allow you to open the structure for maintenance. Assemble each level separately, beginning with sections B and C, as shown in Figure 1.
- Put the inside partitions together by screwing one section E on either side of section D, as shown in Figure 2.
- Screw these inner partitions to the outside walls, as in Figure 3.
- Screw the unit to a floor section to complete one level of the structure. Assemble the other two levels, stacking and joining them with screws, as in Figure 4. Finish with the roof.
- Paint the house white, but only on the outside.
- Screw a large pipe flange on to the bottom and mount the structure on a galvanized pipe 3 m above the ground.
- Be sure to cover the entrances until martins appear in spring. Otherwise, sparrows or starlings may take over the dwelling.
- Clean and maintain the structure at the end of each nesting season.
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