“Birds are an important part of the ecosystem that sustains us,” says Urban Nature Director Amir Balaban of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).

“As they move around, they pollinate plants, disperse seeds and control invertebrates,” he says. “They are pretty to watch and beautiful to listen to, so they are important also for our mental health.”

Balaban, a noted wildlife artist/photographer, helped found two urban wildlife sites in Jerusalem: the Nili & David Jerusalem Bird Observatory and Gazelle Valley Park.

Urban Nature Director Amir Balaban of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Photo by Yael Hamerman/SPNI

No matter where you live — a farm, a suburban house, a city skyscraper or anywhere else — you can mitigate humanity’s impact on the environment by choosing a spot for nurturing nature, he says.

A windowsill, balcony, rooftop, backyard, or garden tended by your community, school or workplace will do. All it needs is a source of water and a mosaic of biodiverse plants native to the location.

This little kingfisher feels at home in Gazelle Valley Park, Jerusalem. Photo by Amir Balaban

Birds can be your barometer to measure the success of your efforts.

“The type and number of birds we have indicates if our habitat is balanced and in good condition,” Balaban tells ISRAEL21c.

A female sparrowhawk in the Nyman Pond in the Nili & David Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Photo by Amir Balaban

Survey the birds in your habitat

If you live in North America and most of the birds in your designated nature space are house sparrows, starlings and pigeons, your habitat is missing the mark, says Balaban. The appearance of birds like cardinals, dark-eyed juncos and ruby-throated hummingbirds indicate you’re on the right track.

A greenfinch in a wild urban habitat. Photo by Amir Balaban

In England, ringneck parakeets and feral pigeons indicate a poor habitat, while birds such as robins, dunnocks, hedge sparrows and goldfinches show you’ve got a good thing going.

Goldfinches on an almond tree. Photo by Amir Balaban

In Israel, hooded crows and mourning doves are not the ideal bird species you want in your habitat. You’ll know you got the balance right when you see local specialized species, for instance Sardinian warblers and yellow-vented bulbuls.

“Nature speaks to us with signs. And one of the best visible signs is birds,” says Balaban.

4 ways to welcome and protect local birds

The “carrying capacity” (average population) of local birds in your designated nature area depends on whether they can find adequate food, shelter, water and mates.

Here are some tips from Balaban to accomplish that.

  1. Install “biological furniture” for birds’ comfort

A pond, a stick pile, a bug hotel, or an array of nesting boxes are examples of biological furniture that will make birds feel welcome in your garden.

Bird feeders, Balaban says, “are a kind of intervention as a last resort. When used, they must be well maintained, clean and safe from predators.”

  1. Share edible plants

Choose native varieties of fruit-bearing trees and bushes for your space based on what you like to eat. But be sure to share the bounty with birds by leaving some of the fruit unpicked. Unless you’re running a commercial farm, you will have plenty for yourself and your feathered friends.

  1. Protect existing bird habitats

In addition to setting up your own natural habitat, find a birding site near your home or workplace and take part in community activities there.

“There are many sites all over the world where people do this, in small wetlands or woodlands or meadows,” says Balaban. “If the site is under threat, your community can make a big difference by working to protect these habitats.”

This waterbird is called a little grebe. Photo by Amir Balaban
  1. Join local wildlife conservation organizations

Larger organized efforts make a positive difference for birds, says Balaban.

In the United States, you can join the Audubon Society; in England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB); and in Israel, SPNI.

But you don’t have to live in Israel to help protect its birds. “People can sponsor specific projects in bird conservation,” says Balaban.

These conservation projects take place at sites such as the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, International Birding and Research Center in Eilat, Jordan Valley Birding Center in Kfar Ruppin, Ramat HaNegev Birding Center at Midreshet Ben-Gurion, and Kibbutz Ma’agen Michael near Haifa.

Click here for more information on Israeli birding centers.