Cedar Falls is proud to be home to amazing recreational opportunities and natural spectacles including an expansive trail system, nature preserves, and parks. However, the most prevalent symbol of the vitality of our city may be found right in your own backyard. In 2020, Cedar Falls was named as Iowa's seventh bird-friendly community. The effort was spearheaded by the North Cedar Neighborhood Association and is an important milestone for our area as Cedar Falls resident and Prairie Rapids Audubon Society member, Lorene Wellnitz, explains:
What does it mean to be a bird-friendly community?
The recognition of being named a bird-friendly community means the people of Cedar Falls recognize that birds are critical indicators of the overall health of the environment. We want to use this opportunity as a stepping stone to invite our fellow residents to learn more ways to help birds thrive. Many of these things are simple and should involve members of your whole family. They include planting native trees, including oaks and willows, and using our backyards and front yards as welcoming bird sanctuaries. This can be done by keeping cats inside and ensuring that there are places for birds to feel secure.
Why is being bird-friendly important and how is it beneficial to Cedar Falls?
In my lifetime, the bird population for many species has declined over thirty percent. That is huge. Cedar Falls has been a role model for other cities and one of the reasons for that is due to our well-maintained and vast trails, walking paths, and parks. Being named a bird-friendly community means that our priorities are in the right place and now we have the opportunity to be a leader for the state. It also helps benefit our city by attracting visiting bird watchers. These visitors arrive in Cedar Falls and spend money locally in our great shops and restaurants. Without the bird-friendly status, they may not have found our amazing city.
What are some of the best places to go bird-watching in the city?
George Wyth State Park and Hartman Reserve Nature Center, both located between Cedar Falls and Waterloo, are great bird destinations. At George Wyth, you can spot a red shoulder hawk nest. They have a bird blind where you can settle down and see 15 to 20 different species of birds.
Hartman Reserve has vast undisturbed areas of old growth trees where you can see pileated woodpeckers and tanagers. They have wonderful feeders which can be viewed from inside the Nature Center.
Prairie Lakes and Big Woods Lake are home to many warblers in the spring and eagles in the winter.
The North Cedar area houses a 15 acre natural resource project in an area that used to flood. You can visit free at any time to enjoy the wetlands, prairies, birding benches, and a chimney swift tower. Since chimney swifts make their homes in chimneys, they have had difficulty finding places to go in the past years due to the installation of chimney liners. Hence the need to create chimney swift towers.
What are some of the popular and rare birds you can see in our area?
The months of April and May are sprinkled with migratory birds. Warblers can be seen around Big Woods and Prairie Lakes. You may also spy pelicans and loons as well as various ducks and migrating waterfowl. In the winter, one of my favorite sights is the tiny saw-whet owl, which is only five inches tall and comes from Canada to enjoy the Cedar trees in our community.
What are some of your favorite bird-watching memories? Favorite bird?
There are so many! One of my favorite memories and birds is the osprey and the story of how it came to our area. The osprey is almost as big as an eagle and has a black band through its eyes. When it flies, it has elbows instead of flapping, making it just an incredible sight. If you go east from Cup of Joe, the coffee shop in Downtown Cedar Falls, to the cell tower, you'll find an osprey nest. The osprey was reintroduced to our area in the mid 1990’s. Our local Audubon Society partnered with rangers in northern Minnesota where there was a nest. We bought three recently hatched chicks and brought them back here to the hacking tower in the northern area of Hartman. Twice a day, the volunteers would feed catfish to the little chicks. It was tricky because we didn’t want to imprint on them. We needed them to remain independent in the wild even as we helped them grow. To solve this, we put gloves on and stuck the food through a little tube. That’s how they were introduced to the area. It was a huge effort from all of our volunteers but extremely rewarding in the end. They have continued living here, raising young each summer, ever since.
What can the community do to keep our area bird-friendly?
Help keep birds safe by taking simple steps around your home. Put up vertical lines, blinds, or stickers on your windows to help birds avoid flying into them. Place a feeder in your backyard and get your whole family involved by using a bird book to identify the visitors. By keeping your little ones interested, a whole new generation becomes passionate to save birds. Homeowners can also use alternatives to Kentucky blue grass in their yards and utilize natural remedies on their lawn as opposed to herbicides and pesticides which may be dangerous for birds. Most importantly, keep your cats indoors. Cats remain the top predator for birds and kill over 2 million birds a year.
The community can also get involved by attending our regular Prairie Rapids Audubon meetings. They take place on the second Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m., typically at the First Presbyterian Church at 902 Main Street. Due to COVID-19, however, these are currently being held via Zoom. So just visit www.gopras.org for information on how you can attend virtually. You can also learn more about caring for birds and native plants and trees that are vital to local birds on the website. If you are new to birdwatching, we are excited to help you get started! Typically, we have invited new birdwatchers to take part in our Audubon field trips. Contact us to borrow binoculars. COVID-19 has changed a few of these features so if you are interested in field trips, contact us via the website first for our updated services. You can also stay informed by viewing the free Audubon newsletter, Red Tail, which is available at the public library, feed stores, the Cedar Falls Visitor’s Center, and Hartman Nature Center.
The Cedar Falls Visitor’s Center also has brochures on birding in the city and you can check out binoculars there as well.
We thank all of our fellow citizens for keeping our area bird-friendly!