Taking 'Birdland' to a new level in Baltimore

A new Oriole Garden at Camden Yards will attract butterflies and birds, including the Baltimore Oriole.

Welcome to Birdland! Every year millions of fans flock to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to cheer on the O's. Given the passion that Baltimoreans share for baseball and birds, the National Wildlife Federation, the Baltimore Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority are teaming up to make America's most beautiful ballpark shine even more brightly for wildlife by creating a showcase native plant garden.

The new Oriole Garden is part of the National Wildlife Federation's "Grow Together Baltimore" initiative through which we are partnering with community organizations to create vibrant green spaces all across the city. These projects, in places like Oriole Park and neighborhoods like McElderry Park, benefit Baltimore residents in many ways. Backyard gardens and greenspace help provide needed habitat for wildlife, connect kids and families to nature and improve water quality by reducing polluted runoff going into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay. At Camden Yards, the garden will feature native plants that attract butterflies, honeybees and native birds — including the Baltimore Oriole, of course — which depend on habitat in urban and suburban areas. The Oriole Garden will provide needed food and shelter for birds and pollinators and will feature many orange flowers and plants — perfect for "Birdland" during the warm weather months.

Just like the Baltimore Orioles team, orioles and other native birds spend part of the winter in warmer climates, such as Florida, but return home to Baltimore in the spring. In fact, the Oriole Garden is right in the orioles' migratory path. So the Oriole Garden will welcome back both sets of birds — the kind with beaks and feathers and the kind with bats and gloves — each spring.

The garden also signifies the Baltimore Orioles' commitment to their community and a cleaner, greener Baltimore. Through the garden, the Orioles baseball team can educate and inspire fans to improve their own backyard habitat. The garden will help fans learn more about orioles, native plants and how to create their own backyard wildlife sanctuaries.

Baltimore's native birds need our help. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Baltimore Oriole populations have declined throughout their range. Canada experienced a 24 percent loss between 1966 and 2010. Because they breed in North America and winter in Central and South America, migratory birds like Baltimore's orioles are vulnerable to deforestation and habitat loss in many nations. The use of pesticides on trees not only kills one of the orioles' primary sources of food — insects — but may also poison the birds as well. The conservation of such migratory songbirds requires international cooperation, but there is a lot individuals can do to help from their own backyards.

While large undeveloped lands are important to support wildlife, most birds nest in the same places humans live, work and play. Greening efforts from street trees to backyard gardens to window boxes not only beautify your block but help wildlife thrive in the city. Just like every fan needs a good seat at the game, native birds need a good spot to nest — especially in urban areas.

While the symbolism of the garden at Camden Yards is important — and millions of fans will be able to see it — this is just one example of a much broader effort to enhance urban wildlife habitat throughout Baltimore. The National Wildlife Federation's "Grow Together Baltimore" program will improve communities block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood. Kids need outdoor activities, and experiences with nature — no matter how small — can be transformative. Every Baltimorean can help by planting native plants and certifying their own backyard, school or workplace with the National Wildlife Federation and our Maryland state affiliate, the National Aquarium.

The "Grow Together Baltimore" program will establish wildlife-friendly green spaces for the benefit of Baltimore residents, improving local waterways and greening our communities. Working with partners such as the National Aquarium, Blue Water Baltimore, City agencies and local neighborhood associations, the program will create backyard habitat, beautify neighborhoods and schools, reduce pollution and further a sense of community.

Through these efforts, Baltimore is on track to be certified as the largest Community Wildlife Habitat in the Chesapeake Bay region, and moving one step closer to truly becoming America's "Birdland."

Collin O'Mara is the president & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation; his email is collin@nwf.org.

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