Hedgerows turn farm edges into bird habitat

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Farmers have long understood that planting hedgerows around the edges of their properties can produce a number of benefits to their farming operations. These hedgerows, if consisting of native trees and shrubs can be an important way for farmers to support local bird populations in areas where natural habitat can be scarce.

The overall benefits of native hedgerows to farming operations include:

  • Attracting beneficial insects
  • Improving water quality
  • Providing windbreaks
  • Suppressing weeds
  • Stabilizing soil

Hedgerows and birds

Recent preliminary research shows that farm edges with hedgerows can host as many as four times the number of bird species as farm edges without hedgerows. One of the reasons for this is that a properly developed hedgerow provides beneficial habitat throughout the seasons, as opposed to roadside weeds which only blossom once a year.

Some farmers are reluctant about hedgerows because they worry that the hedgerows attract pest birds that will eat nearby crops. However, the birds that are attracted to hedgerows are primarily berry and insect-eaters.

Evolution of a hedgerow

Audubon California has a great deal of experience helping farmers in the Sacramento Valley establish hedgerows on their properties. The elements of a native hedgerow generally proceeds as described below, offering increasingly diverse structure and food sources for a broad suite of bird species.

  • First, we plant native perennial grasses that secure the soil through the establishment of a deep root system. These grasses provide cover for ground-feeding birds such as White- and Golden-crowned Sparrows.
  • Next, we bring in herbaceous flowering plants, also known as forbs, such as California fuschia, flowering primrose, and California poppies which attract nectar-feeders such as hummingbirds.  The nectar also brings in insects, which in turn attract kinglets, warblers, and other insectivores. 
  • As woody shrubs such as toyon and coffeeberry become established, we begin to see fruit-dependent species such as Hermit Thrushes, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Northern Mockingbirds.
  • Finally, as taller trees like cottonwoods and oaks develop, they attract raptors such as Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper's Hawks and provide nesting habitat for summer breeders, such as Bullock's Orioles and Western Kingbirds.

Long-term cost savings

Many farmers maintain clean field borders by spraying and mowing, which is actually more expensive in the long run than maintaining hedgerows. This "clean" maintenance can cost up to $100 per acre/per year. While a hedgerow can cost as much as $5,000 to install per acre, its annual maintenance cost is around $40 per acre/per year.

Learn more

If you would like more information about the benefits of hedgerows to native birds, or how to properly install a hedgerow on your property, please contact Audubon California at (530) 795-0660.

Copyright  2013 National Audubon Society, Inc