The Delaware Botanic Garden donates plant waste to help injured birds

The Delaware Botanic Garden donates plant waste to help injured birds

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A team of gardeners at the Cuba Mountain Center waded through a meadow of tall native grasses on a mid-November morning. As they wandered through the space collecting piles of yellow plants, Velcro-like seeds from other meadow plants adorned their clothes.

“What we’re doing today is managing yellow Indian grass,” said Joshua Dunham, a senior gardener at the Botanical Garden in Hoxene, Delaware.

Along the way, gardeners stooped to cutting off seed-filled stems to control these fast-growing weeds. Some of the plant waste will be composted. But the other piles, along with their seeds, will be sent to Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, about 10 miles away in Newark, Delaware.

Josie Marsh, a horticulturist at the Cuba Mountain Center, collects yellow Indian grass from the center’s meadow that can be given to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research for use in habitat construction. (Kimberly Painter/WHY)

Bird Rescue uses donated plant waste to create natural habitats for local birds recovering from oil spills, window blowouts, cat attacks, fishing line entanglements, and lead poisoning. The organizations say the partnership underscores the importance of local wildlife.

“We are preserving the value of these native plants,” Dunham said. “This is food. This is the habitat for these birds. And why not give (plants) a second purpose?”

Josh Dunham, a senior gardener at Cuba Mountain Botanical Garden in Hoxsen, Delaware, is part of a meadow cleanup that provides plant material and seeds to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Delaware. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Bird rescue volunteer Marian Quinn came up with the idea in 2018 when the Cuban Mountain posted on Facebook that it needed to destroy the egg casings of the Chinese praying mantis, which is invasive and preys on native insects. Quinn asked the park to donate it to bird rescue instead.

“I wrote to them and said, ‘No, don’t burn them. Give them to Tri-State because we can hatch them. There’s food there,'” she said.

Soon Cuba Mountain began donating dead and diseased plants, from branches to herbs, as well as seeds. Bird Rescue uses plant materials to design temporary homes for birds while they recover. Quinn drives to Cuba Mountain year-round to fill her Mazda with piles of plants.

Marian Quinn is a volunteer at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research where she uses donated garden elements to create a realistic habitat for recovering patients in Tri-State. (Kimberly Painter/WHY)

Dunham said the partnership made his job more worthwhile.

“It makes me want to get up and come to work and just help support another organization that is doing work for another living being,” he said.

Donations save bird rescuers time and energy, because they don’t have to search for native plants themselves. In the summer months, there may be 250 birds to find their plants.

Volunteers at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research use donated garden elements, such as yellow Indian grass from Cuba Mountain Center, to create a realistic habitat for Tri-State’s recovering patients. (Kimberly Painter/WHY)

The enclosures mimic the birds’ natural habitats, which helps reduce stress and the amount of time doctors need to handle them, said Andrea Howe Newcomb, director of the Tri-State Clinic.

“Most of these animals are prey species of some animal in the wild,” Howie Newcomb said. “So, having an environment where they can feel comfortable will make them feel safe. Once they feel safe, they will start self-feeding (which will reduce) their time in captivity.

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