A low buzz permeates the air in the new Space Coast Audubon native plant garden. Busy insects and butterflies flit from flower to flower, while a rustle in the nearby bushes signals the presence of a songbird. With its ribbon-cutting on July 21, this beautiful garden space represents a new chapter in the Audubon Plants for Birds program.
In late 2016, Audubon launched the groundbreaking Audubon Plants for Birds campaign touting the critical need to reintroduce native plants into our landscapes. Not only do native plants require less water and fertilizer than ornamentals, they also support the beneficial Florida insects we need to pollinate our crops and birds need to feed their young. What made the Plants for Birds resources unique? The information readily available at a gardener’s fingertips. Toolkits, webinars, and a robust grants program followed, all funded by the Susan and Coleman Burke Center for Native Plants.
“We started Plants for Birds because we understood native plants supported birds better,” explains Dr. John Rowden, Director of Community Conservation for the National Audubon Society. Once Susan and Coley Burke — who winter annually in Hobe Sound — heard of the program at a public event they excitedly came on board. Development, climate change, and sterile landscapes have fueled the decline of countless insect and bird species. To date, 27 Audubon chapters in Florida have signed on to serve as resources to help individuals, schools, businesses, and municipalities.
Two rounds of Burke grants support chapter projects that include restoration of hurricane-ravaged habitats, workshops for homeowners and homeowners associations, installation of school and public gardens, free native plant giveaways, and inspiring collaborations. Independently, in early 2017, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) came to Audubon Florida looking for guidance on ways to increase the positive environmental impact of its rapidly expanding list of solar energy centers.
With the help of local Audubon chapters, Audubon staff, the Florida Native Plants Society, The Florida Wildflower Foundation, and a number of other environmental organizations, FPL’s "Solar Environmental Stewardship" program began to take shape. The design, emphasizing pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, is currently underway at 12 FPL solar energy centers across the state of Florida. Audubon Florida has announced the first FPL/Audubon Florida Plants for Birds grant program. FPL’s donation of $25,000 provides an opportunity to engage Audubon members and new audiences through projects that directly put native plants in the ground.
While urbanization’s footprint on the landscape is daunting, communities can make a real difference for birds in the landscaping choices made in our yards, parks, and public spaces.