Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gardening for Wildlife

Did you know about the National Wildlife Federation program to help us build wildlife habitats in our yards? A wildlife habitat is a place that welcomes birds, butterflies and other local wildlife. To create one you provide the four elements animals need most: food, water, shelter, and places to raise young. Then you apply to have your yard certified, and get a cool sign to proudly display.

In our previous yard, Bill and I created a certified wildlife habitat by adding native plants that were decorative and provided food for birds and native bees. We planted evergreen huckleberry, snowberry, salal, and mahonia for their berries, and a lot of different native flowering plants to provide pollen and nectar for the bees and hummingbirds.

We also put nesting boxes--on poles to keep them away from predators because squirrels and racoons love to eat bird eggs. The boxes attracted chickadees and house wrens. We soon learned that house wrens are bossy. They scolded us soundly every time we came near the garden during nesting season. We also ended up installing three bird baths rather than just one because the crows took over the big one, and the little birds needed plenty of room for pool parties. When everything was set up, we ordered a yard sign from the National Wildlife Federation. It was a great conversation starter and led to some friends and their children learning more about wildlife.

Bill and I recently moved, and our new yard is a "blank slate," which is a fancy way of saying that it doesn't have much in the way of landscaping. The good thing is that we'll have lots of fun planting stuff. The less good thing is that establishing a new garden takes time. With nothing to attract any wild visitors to our new yard, I pined for some little friends. What could I do until we got a garden going?

Well, one afternoon instead of clearing a pathway through the living room and finding some dishes to eat on, I visited the Wild Bird Store and came home with an elaborate bird feeder, which I immediately assembled and put right in front of our living room window.

This is the view from our living room. The red thing way in the back is a hummingbird feeder. On the front of the box it came in was a photo of three hummingbirds peacefully sitting on the feeder together. This photo was digitally altered. In fact only one hummingbird is allowed on the feeder. The biggest hummer guards the feeder and attacks interlopers We had to get a second feeder so that more than hummer could eat, and had to put it on a different side of the house so two hummers never see each other eating. This helps prevent deaths from the vicious areal combat that's triggered whenever one hummingbird sees another one eating.

As you can tell from this photo, goldfinches aren't so good about sharing either. When a flock of them lands, they take turns knocking each other off their perches. I haven't noticed any deadly areal battles, though, which is good because we haven't got the budget for all of the extra feeders required for this group.
I hung an adorable bird bath from the feeder as well, but the yard squirrel was able to use it as a landing platform and a comfortable place to sit while devouring the expensive, hull-less bird seed I use, so the bird bath is currently on the ground. I need get a different pole to hang it from.

Anyway, I'd encourage you to make your own habitat. Watching wild creatures is endlessly entertaining, whether it's feathered ones playing King of the Mountain on the bird feeder, or furry ones performing acrobatic feats to get to the bird seed. And it's rewarding to know that you're helping them to live and thrive in harmony with humans.

Update: My sister, Jenn, has just set up her new bird feeder extraordinaire: 

Jenn lives out in the country, as you can see, so her feeder attracts all sorts of different birds. She gets a huge number of gold finches, who love niger, which is why she has two extra-large niger dispensers.

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