Monday, December 8, 2008

Create Wildlife Habitat At Your Place!

This morning is nice...the sun is filtering through the clouds, I am enjoying a hot cup of shade grown, fair trade coffee and lots of our bird friends are foraging out back. We encourage birds and all sorts of wildlife here at Coffeetree Bottoms and want to share some resources for creating a more wildlife friendly yard at your place.

In Steve's post about Avian Nesting Boxes 1, he said: "Birds and people share at least one very large challenge in life: finding safe and cozy housing. The similarities end there. Us bipeds must simply navigate the real estate/building/mortgage payment system (we'll not discuss the current mortgage debacle here). Birds, however, must find housing (nesting spots) in the midst of competing with each other and other species for food, water and space. Space - that's the rub. Us humans, via our own struggle to survive and thrive, have converted and/or degraded a large proportion of natural space that once held safe and cozy nesting spots for birds. But we can do much to help."

I want to focus on the italicized portion of Steve's comment and expand it to include all wildlife and all habitat requirements for a living creature. So, what is habitat? That word gets talked about frequently in environmental education programs for children and perhaps not often enough to adults who can enact some serious change. Simply put, habitat is all that a living creature needs to survive: food, water, shelter and space...same things we humans need. As Steve mentioned above, space is a very limiting factor for many creatures naturally (including humans in overpopulated areas), but the human foot print is now so large that habitat loss is the number one threat to most wild animals.

One quick and easy change we can enact is by changing the space we provide around our homes. What do I mean? Well, let's look at Coffeetree Bottoms, the 2 acres where Steve and I live. When we moved in a few years ago, our property consisted of many, many junk buildings, lots of fencing, even more mowed grass, & trees along our stream and peppered about the property. We felt pretty lucky to have the number of trees we did, but looked at our lawn as dead space. I know it is nice to have some grass in place (in areas with sufficient rainfall) for walking around & playing and we still have some, but we worked over the next few years to replace much of the grass with native plants and more native trees. The increase in wildlife on our property is incredible and now some of the most fun we have is touring our property and observing all the plants, insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, small & large mammals, etc.

Resources to get you started:

  • Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas Tallamy. This is an excellent book to learn about the habitat problem for animals and what you can do to help in your own space. Tallamy makes quite a case for helping and protecting insects, bugs and other small critters that are vital food for animals higher on the food chain such as birds. The second half of the book discusses all kinds of plants and trees native to the Eastern United States that are most helpful for wildlife. There are lots of photos and the text is easy to read. This is a great place to get started! Tallamy also created a companion website. Check it out here.
  • National Wildlife Federation's Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program - This program is one of the first that helps you to create and then certify habitat in your own yard. It's very well laid out, easy to understand, fun to do and helps other living creatures out immensely.
  • North American Butterfly Association's Butterfly Garden and Habitat Program - Similar to the NWF program, but with an emphasis on butterflies. You have to check out this group. It's quite fantastic and the founder and President of the Board is a genius!
  • Monarch Watch Waystation Program - Similar to the NWF & NABA programs, but with an emphasis on Monarch butterflies. We named our blog The Common Milkweed for a number of reasons, but one is to draw attention to an important family of plants: milkweed - the caterpillar food of the monarch butterfly.
Check out these resources! Please do. Wildlife truly, absolutely needs your help.

Fun for your Yard: You can certify with the latter three groups and get dandy little signs for your yard to educate others. We have two signs displayed out by the road in front of the prairie we planted. They look nice & professional.

Still need more convincing?
If you still aren't sure about creating wildlife friendly habitat in your yard, let me show you a few pictures of what you could see in your very own yard if you make the commitment to wildlife (& the human population really).

A native woodland wildflower - Bloodroot. One of the earliest flowers in the spring in our midwestern woodlands. A carpet of bloodroots is one of the most beautiful hopeful displays you might ever see after a long winter.

American Goldfinches feeding on Brown-eyed Susans. Flocks of goldfinches called our place home this year because we provided so many different kinds of native plants with their main food source - seeds. Favorites include these brown-eyed susans, black-eyed susans, coneflower and the cultivated sunflowers in our garden.

Milkweed is the sole caterpillar food for monarchs, but milkweed also feeds a number of specialized arthropods (insects, bugs, etc.). This photo showcases a Red Milkweed Beetle who laid eggs on the milkweed stem near the ground, where a larva hatched out, bore into the stem and is currently overwintering in the roots of milkweed to pupate and emerge as an adult in the spring. SO beautiful.

Gray-headed Coneflower - a native wildflower loved by pollinating insects & birds. These seeds smell wonderful and are one of my most favorite scents. The plants self seed and create gorgeous masses of long lasting blooming wildflowers. If left in place through the fall & winter, the seeds feed seed-eating birds and provide a safe place for many native insects and small mammals to overwinter.

A Northern-Leopard Frog! These frogs are on the Endangered Species List as a Species of Special Concern here in Indiana, but will do well in a home landscape if habitat is created and nurtured and lawn chemicals are not used. Amphibians' skin is very porous making them extremely susceptible to environmental toxins such as petrochemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides; due to this fact, amphibians are great environmental indicators. Frogs, toads & snakes (yes snakes too!) are wonderful critters to have around your place to help with insect & rodent control.

Beauty - native wildflowers add such beauty to your home landscape. Here is a photo of one of our butterfly gardens with purple coneflower & black-eyed susans in bloom and many others getting ready to flower.

A close-up of Bergamot - a native wildflower that bees of all kinds just love! This plant is in the mint family so it spreads readily (put it somewhere you don't mind it spreading, hint: fast way to get rid of empty space in beds!) and it smells wonderful.

Finally, two winter photos of birds gladly excepting our supplemental seed offerings. The habitat we provide allows us to observe such interesting species as this White-crowned Sparrow feeding in the foreground and a Tree Sparrow in the background.

Here a Dark-eyed Junco in the foreground and a Northern Cardinal in the background munching on blackoil sunflower seeds in the blowing snow.

We all have such power to create a better place for humans and wildlife. I hope our post is helpful and inspirational. Please let us know if you have any additional resources or comments or questions.

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