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Incentives for the Birds

Article Published: Oct. 10, 2013 | Modified: Oct. 10, 2013
Incentives for the Birds

The Audubon Society is seeking landowners’ help in preserving natural habitats for the golden-winged warbler.
Photo courtesy of Audubon North Carolina

It takes a keen eye sometimes to put your helpful energies to use and make a difference in the world around you.

Sometimes, you have to look opportunities to make a profound impact, while other times, the chance to make the Earth a better place literally flies right in front of you.

The National Audubon Society is offering landowners across Western North Carolina that perfect chance.

By participating in a recurring yearly program to help preserve natural habitats for the golden-winged warbler, landowners can improve the natural beauty of their property, while having the satisfaction of protecting one of the Southern Appalachians’ gems.

The warbler is a ground bird that is native to the Appalachian mountain range and Great Lakes area. Within the past decades, declining numbers have led environmentalists to act by petitioning to have the bird added to the endangered species list, said Curtis Smalling of the North Carolina chapter of the National Audubon Society.

There are currently approximately 400,000 warblers left in the world.

“That’s significant because there are usually millions of ground birds per species,” Smalling said.
Warblers typically reside in the unkempt brush and shrubby areas that are often mowed or left untouched due to the undesired look of the thicket.

So far, the local chapter has mailed out the last wave of 1,800 letters to landowners in the western part of the state.

“A lot of folks will look at shrubby area like this and think it needs to be cut or allowed to grow back into forest,” Smalling said. “A lot of our work has to do with working with the landowner in periodic mowing and thinning of such fields.”

An ideal warbler habitat includes a nice mix of young trees, grass shrubs and wildflowers, he said.
Landowners who might not be interested in harvesting the timber of their land or making room for Christmas trees would likely be good candidates for the program, Smalling said.

The program is funded through the Farm Bill’s Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

Smalling said this is a cost share program that pays up to 75 percent of the expected expenses.
“Usually, this involves the Audubon staff meeting with the property owner and talking about what the birds need and making sure their needs are compatible,” Smalling said. “We then develop a management plan.”

The program also has other benefits to the protected land, he said, including the improvement of water quality.

According to Smalling, the contacted landowners’ reception to the program has been positive so far.
“Western North Carolina is important because (the habitats) tend to occur at higher elevations, so our elevations is one of the reasons they can be this far South, and that really extends the species,” Smalling said.

For more information on how to get involved with this or other Audubon programs, email Curtis Smalling at (

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