Audubon Ambassadors at Home

Being Bird Lovers of the first order, members of The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) were moved to action by messages of declining bird species numbers, such as the following:

“Partners in Flight identified 148 bird species in need of immediate conservation attention because of their highly threatened and declining populations.”

Plenty for the birds here, water, berries and seeds.

Realizing the importance of suburban backyards as critical habitat for their feathered friends, ASNV members created a “Healthy Yard Pledge” and applied for grants to help them develop a program to educate and aid homeowners. Toyota, an organization that has given generously to many environmentally-friendly efforts, granted their wish. With the help of a full-time, salaried, professional naturalist, Cliff Fairweather, they set about promoting their program and getting Cliff into homeowners’ yards for on-the-spot evaluations and advice. The name “Audubon Ambassadors at Home” (AAH) was duly bestowed upon this undertaking.

Kasha opens her yard to a training session.


Here we meet Kasha Helget, who had no experience with planning or planting for habitat. When she learned about AAH, Kasha was eager to get help, and set up a meeting with Cliff. Her goal was to transform her typical suburban lawn into a beautiful wildlife garden, a refuge for wildlife as well as an eco-friendly, sustainable, and pleasant setting for her family’s new-to-them, but old, home.



A parterre garden in front reduced the amount of turfgrass, added wildlife value, yet allowed everyone feel like there was still some lawn.

She had to meet some formidable challenges: bamboo marching over from a neighboring yard, ivy veritably creeping into windows, lots of lawn and a husband who loved grass, and serious erosion from stormwater runoff. Cliff gave her  practical advice on improvements to meet her stated goals, helped her with choosing some native plants, and steered her toward other sources for help with the stormwater.
Kasha had been thinking a rain garden would solve her erosion problem, but a visit from the county’s Environmental Services Department saved her from a costly mistake. The amount of water that was flowing would need to be controlled by a rain “sink.” This required a  deep pit filled to the bottom with gravel, but it solved the problem completely; and decorative stones were placed on top for beautification.

A rain pit in the right was needed to halt the stormwater flow

Kasha used a plethora of native plants so that the birds and other wildlife would have food, water and shelter throughout the succession of seasons. This installation took place over the course of many years, not all at once; and she also used some exotics, although not invasive ones, and some edible plants. She now proudly displays the “Wildlife Sanctuary” sign, which is the concept that has replaced the “Healthy Yard Pledge” at the top of her driveway. Help from the  AAH program was invaluable to Kasha as she began this transformational process completely unfamiliar to her.

Ruby throated hummingbird photographed by Christine Freidel in her
bird-friendly backyard

The Audubon Society, along with everyone else, has been affected by budget constraints of late, and the Northern Virginia group is no longer able to fund the services of a full-time naturalist. They have not abandoned the AAH program however. They are instead partnering with other like-minded organizations such as the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists and conducting training to enable volunteers to go into the homeowner’s yards.

White snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosa, another pollinator attractor, good for naturalized edges, and not well-liked by deer.

So here is the call to action. Volunteers can make a huge difference, one yard at a time.
How can you cross-pollinate the efforts of environmental groups you support like the two mentioned above? Would a little training enable you to make a bigger impact in your neighborhood, planning landscapes, choosing trees, or teaching folks why exotic invasive plants are not a good choice? The Nature Conservancy, The Sierra Club, and The Audubon Society are just a few of the national organizations that have a presence on local levels. Most states now have excellent Master Naturalist training programs. The time is now, the need is great.Your contribution makes a difference, and it’s good for you, too.

Wanted: Volunteers and Ambassadors of all kinds!

This sign means the yard has met some basic requirements and the homeowner has observed a list of wildlife visiting it.

© 2012, Suzanne Dingwell. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Don’t Miss the Wren Song Community

Wren Winter Singing crop

Free Exclusive Content and Member's Forum

Sign up for a free membership in the Wren Song Community and you'll have access to a lot more valuable information published exclusively for our members.

Meet other passionate wildlife gardeners from around the country. Share your successes. Learn from your failures. Discover the best resources to help you create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your gardens with native plants so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, and other wildlife to your garden.

Learn more about the Wren Song Community


  1. says

    Nicely done Sue!

    Let’s not forget the local Native Plant Society when choosing an organization to contact and support. From my perspective I think the smaller organizations can have a bigger impact and manage their funds better than those with a national presence. Nice to see the advocacy for the N. VA chapter of Audubon, their initiative sounds great!
    Loret recently posted..Caterpillar Tartare?

  2. says

    Yes, Loret, quite right, and of course you know I do support those local plant societies! I was at a wonderful ceremony today for the outgoing president of the Virginia Native Plant Society, twelve years of service in that job, along with a long list of concurrent giving. A wonderful example.
    I was trying to broaden the options here, many people admire the work of the bigger organizations and think of them as being “somewhere else,” when in fact, they might be able to contribute to them right where they live now. Thanks for everything you do, Loret, and for your kind comment!
    Sue Dingwell recently posted..The Power of WE, as in WEtland

  3. says

    Hi Sue,

    Great article. I love the how-to articles with good detail.

    I’d never heard of a rain sink. We always called a pit filled with gravel a drywell. Here’s how we built a good-sized drywell:
    We hope that the pipes and the weed barrier cloth helps keep this patch draining for a really long time. So far it’s been working well with some periods of extreme rainfall for more than five years.
    Ginny Stibolt recently posted..Fall weather and planting garlic in wide rows

    • Suzanne Dingwell says

      Yes, we always called it a drywell too, but that was back in the old days. If your well kept you dry through the rainfall down there this summer, I’d say you have done an excellent job! Thanks for dropping by, Ginny.

  4. says

    I would like to mention that Audubon At Home is a program of the National Audubon Society and exists on some level at most state centers and has been adopted by several chapters nationally. NVAS is a wonderful example of a network of people who care about the environment and who are truly making a difference. I am delighted to see them mentioned on your blog.

    I work for Audubon Connecticut and coordinate the Audubon At Home program for the state as part of National Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Communities program which focuses on community-based conservation that addresses the needs of both people and wildlife through innovative programming.
    Taralynn Reynolds recently posted..Why Do We Never See Baby Pigeons?


  1. […] 5. Audubon Ambassadors at Home: Being Bird Lovers of the first order, members of The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) were moved to action by messages of declining bird species numbers. Realizing the importance of suburban backyards as critical habitat for their feathered friends, ASNV members created a “Healthy Yard Pledge” and applied for grants to help them develop a program to educate and aid homeowners… ~Suzanne Dingwell […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge