The Piedmont extends southwestward from New York City to Montgomery, Alabama, in a swath that is bordered on the east by the Coastal Plain and on the west by the Appalachian Mountains. The Virginia Piedmont is roughly triangular in shape, extending from a narrow band in northern Virginia to a width of 150 miles at the southern Virginia border. Although it was once mostly hardwood forest, centuries of human influence have converted the Piedmont to a mix of agriculture, abandoned farmland, forest, and suburban development.
Often overlooked in its importance to birds, the Piedmont provides valuable nesting, migration, and wintering habitats that are scarce in other parts of the state. Approximately 140 species of birds breed in the mid-Atlantic Piedmont. Data shows that populations of many of these species have declined in recent decades. Habitat loss and degradation are the most important factors causing these declines. Suburban and agricultural development has eliminated much of the region’s hardwood forest, and non-native plants and poor management have impaired much of what remains. Non-native grasses of little value to most birds dominate pastures, and early mowing for hay destroys the nests of those few that attempt to breed there. Farm modernization and increasing pesticide use have turned agricultural lands into wastelands for birds, in part by eliminating many brushy fence lines, ditches, and road banks that formerly provided valuable edge habitat for nesting and foraging.
Managing Land in the Piedmont of Virginia for the Benefit of Birds and Other Wildlife
Why should we care enough about bird population declines and habitat loss to devote our valuable time and resources to managing for wildlife? Birds are an integral part of our ecosystems and thus help maintain the dynamic balance of nature. They are some of our best pest control agents, helping to keep insect populations in check that might otherwise defoliate and damage timber and crops. Birds also serve as one of our most efficient seed dispersers, depositing them far from their place of origin and helping to maintain the vigor of our forests and grasslands.
In addition, birds are aesthetically pleasing, providing beauty of both sight and sound. Birdwatching is quickly becoming one of our most popular hobbies, generating billions of dollars each year spread across local economies where opportunities are provided. But, perhaps most importantly, birds and other wildlife are entrusted to the care of those of us who are landowners and it is our responsibility to assure that future generations have these natural resources to nurture and enjoy.
If you own land in the Piedmont, whether a large farm or estate, or just a small backyard, then you too can help provide valuable habitat for our birds. Simple changes, such as leaving a fence row to grow unkempt or allowing part of a yard to grow up in native grasses rather than mowing every two weeks, can provide great benefits to the birds that are struggling to survive under our ever-intensifying land use habits. Read on and find out about this and many more opportunities you have to help birds!