Each year, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of the colorful and gregarious evening grosbeak in my front courtyard garden. These robin-sized, stocky birds bring with them a sense of presence and an easygoing, light-hearted manner. Sadly, the evening grosbeak belongs to a group of 20 common backyard bird species whose populations have fallen by at least half in the past 40 years.
Birds that were once common as little as a decade ago are becoming increasingly scarce today. The evening grosbeak, in fact, has taken a drastic nosedive in numbers, plummeting by 78 percent in the past 40 years. Pesticide use, climate change, pollution, and even cats—both feral and domestic—have taken their toll, but a reduction in birds' most basic need—habitat—is critical. "Most of the decline can be attributed to habitat destruction both in North America and their wintering grounds in Central and South America," says Roger Lederer, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biological sciences at California State University in Chico and editor of Ornithology.com.
While the evening grosbeaks are becoming more of a rarity, the total avian population in my garden has soared over the years. Now I look forward to the arrival of more than 30 different bird species right outside my front door. By incorporating the right mix of plants—in addition to amenities such as feeders, birdhouses, and baths—you too can welcome birds with the essentials we all need for survival: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise a family.