Operation Backyard Recovery

Girl with Birdhouse
Photo by Mark LaSalle

BIRDHOUSE CLINIC− Allie Durso built a birdhouse at a clinic sponsored by the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society and Audubon Mississippi.

Homes, churches, businesses and public buildings were not the only structures that were destroyed or damaged by the passage of Hurricane Katrina. A large number of trees and shrubs were also lost and along with them, the homes for many birds and mammals that depend on these important components of the natural world around us. For those species of birds that over-winter in areas along the Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama coasts, the loss of their roosting, cover and feeding sites may affect their survival this winter. Well-known Mississippi birder and author Judy Toups, a founding member of the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society, was quick to recognize this impending crisis and quickly called for birders to help alleviate the problem by building and placing birdhouses where possible. Judy dubbed this idea Operation Backyard Recovery and now Audubon Mississippi, working with Audubon Chapters, other Audubon state programs, the National Audubon Society, and a number of other partners in south Mississippi and elsewhere, is taking up the call.

The premise of Operation Backyard Recovery is simple: to promote the recovery of habitat for birds and other wildlife in areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina. Two focus areas make up the project, including the building and placement of birdhouses that can provide short and long-term support for birds that have lost roosting and nesting sites and the planting of native trees and shrubs that can replace those lost to the storm and improve the quality of urban and suburban habitats for birds and wildlife. Both of these goals reflect key themes of the Audubon At Home program, namely that by taking personal conservation action, everyone can improve the environmental health and habitat quality close to home, and collectively, over the larger landscape. Apart from the obvious benefits of promoting such goals, this project also has the potential to engage a wide range of groups, both inside and outside of Audubon, over the next several years. Indeed many such groups have risen to the occasion and contributed much to the project, beginning with Mississippi Coast Audubon Society. This Audubon Chapter sponsored a series of birdhouse clinics where kids and families constructed simple birdhouses made from recycled fence boards salvaged from across the coast. Learning of their effort, Green Mountain Audubon Society, working with Audubon Vermont, built and sent birdhouses made from white pine boards saved from a fallen tree at the Green Mountain Audubon Center. The third-grade children of Lindberg Eager Achiever Program in St. Louis, Missouri joined the effort by building and shipping birdhouses to be shared with a school on the Mississippi coast that was greatly affected by the storm. Individuals from other chapters from across the country have also contributed money, books and materials to support the effort. Businesses such as Wild Birds Unlimited donated books, feeders and supplies to be distributed across the coast.

Along the way, an idea hatched in the mind of Heidi Devos at Audubon Magazine led to the development of the Katrina Tree Recovery Campaign, a joint effort of the National Arbor Day Foundation and the National Audubon Society. This program is focused on soliciting donations from across the country that will be turned into bare root native trees that will be distributed across south Mississippi and southeast Louisiana this spring. Trees will be distributed with the help of Audubon Chapters in Mississippi and Louisiana and the program will also engage numerous other volunteers and groups from throughout the region. In the end, southern Mississippi will indeed recover from the storm named Katrina with the help of generous and thoughtful individuals and groups within and outside of the Audubon family. In many ways, these challenges have done much to "connect people with nature" and with each other. For this, we are all grateful.

Details about Operation Backyard Recovery can be found at www.msaudubon.org/katrina/restoration.php More information about the Katrina Tree Recovery Campaign can be found at www.arborday.org/Katrina.

Bob Huskisson from Colchester, Vermont and his mother Charlotte from Magnolia Springs, Alabama upon delivery of birdhouse kits from Vermont, kits supplied courtesy of the Pine Mountain Audubon Society. Photo by Mark LaSalle