Urban birds and planting design: strategies for incorporating ecological goals into residential landscapes

Abstract

Private residential property occupies a major part of the urban land base, yet considerable potential remains for improving the ecological performance of private gardens and landscapes. Ecologically-oriented approaches to design of residential properties, however, are only valuable if they are compatible with private landowner interests and needs–otherwise they may never be implemented. Landscape designers would benefit from more comprehensive guidance for ecologically-oriented planting design that best fits within residential settings. This paper identifies plant-based design strategies that may improve avian species richness, reviews scientific literature supporting these options, and describes three years of structured design research to evaluate how these strategies can be compatible with the programmatic and aesthetic goals of residential landowners. We worked with three New York State communities beginning with a community/neighborhood-scale visioning and goal setting process and ending with parcel-scale landscape designs. The project, in total, developed residential landscape designs for 50 private properties, each incorporating urban ecological benefits in combination with the interests and needs of the owner. We share here a set of planting design strategies for enhancing avian habitat on residential private property generated during this process. They include planting strategies that: a) contribute to landscape networks; b) build vegetative structure at sites; c) provide microrefugia; d) optimize forage resource availability; and e) enhance plant diversity. Qualitative and quantitative evaluation of design results for the strategies is discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Throughout the literature review readers will notice use of the word “habitat.” It is widely acknowledged that, even in the ecological literature, the word “habitat” is used to mean a variety of non-specific conditions from “vegetative structure” to “land cover.” Noncanonical use of this word is even less specific. When possible, we use the word to mean the specific resources and conditions necessary to support the life-cycle of an organism, but there are some instances where we cite literature where the phrase is used to mean something slightly different. In those cases, we leave the original use of the word intact so as not to change the meaning of the original authors work.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the many property owners who participated in this project and our collaborators at Cornell Cooperative Extension. We would also like to thank the reviewers of this manuscript for their valuable comments, as well as reviewers of a preliminary conference proceedings paper that this manuscript builds on.

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Smith Lever project number 2012-13-119. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Correspondence to Joshua F. Cerra.

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Cerra, J.F., Crain, R. Urban birds and planting design: strategies for incorporating ecological goals into residential landscapes. Urban Ecosyst 19, 1823–1846 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-016-0570-0

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Keywords

  • Urban avian habitat
  • Residential landscape
  • Planting design
  • Private gardens
  • Landscape design