With the continued growth in population throughout our country, many wildlife species face increasing pressure from lack of natural habitat—the number one threat to wildlife today. So creating welcoming places for these wonderful creatures in your yard—no matter how small—will help provide the conditions they need to survive and thrive. These needs can be grouped into four categories: food, water, cover, and places to bear and raise their young.
Welcome to Birdsville
Create your own little bird village or spread your bird houses around the yard. Birds will flock to your yard if they find places to hide; places to nest (trees, shrubs, hedges, brambles, and nesting boxes); shelter to protect them from cold, wind and rain (evergreens, shrubs planted against walls and other sheltered areas); and food and water.
The best all-around food for seed-eating birds is black-oil sunflower seed. This seed has a high meat-to-shell ratio; it is high in fat; and its small size and thin shell make it easy for small birds to handle and crack. (Striped sunflower seeds are larger and have thicker seed coats.)
Suet is a good choice for attracting insect-eating birds. Most suet is beef kidney fat, which is inexpensive and available at many meat counters. Suet also can be purchased as processed cake that includes seeds, berries, and other ingredients. Be careful if you offer suet in hot weather; it may become rancid if it has not been specially processed.
Several species, including jays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, readily consume peanuts. Be creative and see what you can attract with a variety of foods. Try popped popcorn (without salt or butter), hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, soaked raisins, pieces of fruit (orioles like oranges), fruit seeds (melons, apples), grapes, or mealworms.
To make nectar for hummingbirds, add one part sugar (do not use honey or artificial sweeteners) to four parts boiling water and stir. Don’t add red food coloring as it can be harmful to the birds. Instead, purchase a feeder with a red color already on it. You can also tie red ribbons on the feeder to attract hummingbirds. Allow the mixture to cool before filling the hummingbird feeder. Change the nectar every three to five days to prevent mold and deadly fermentation.
Birds need water for drinking and for bathing. Place a number of water vessels around the yard, including purchased birdbaths and dishes or pans from your kitchen. Birds like water at ground level as well as at raised levels. Change the water and clean the birdbaths often to keep them fresh and clean. In freezing weather, a birdbath heater will keep the water from freezing. NEVER add anti-freeze; it is poisonous to all animals, including birds.
For in-depth information on bird species and attracting birds to your garden in your area, visit the National Audubon Society.
Butterflies—Because They’re Beautiful
Flowers on wings—attract these beautiful and interesting creatures to your garden.
By planting a butterfly garden with all of the right kinds of plants and flowers that butterflies love to feed on and lay eggs on, you will certainly have a yard full of butterflies throughout the growing season. Butterfly gardens can be any size—include a few butterfly-attracting plants in your flower borders, in window boxes, as part of your landscaped yard or even in a wild area on your property. It’s fun to also designate a small section of your yard and create their own garden—a butterfly garden.
Locate your butterfly garden in a sunny location (5-6 hours each day), but one that is sheltered from the winds. Butterflies need the sun to warm themselves, but they won’t want to feed in an area where they are constantly fighting the wind to stay on the plants. It is also a good idea to place a few flat stones in your sunny location so the butterflies can take a break while warming up. Butterflies need a water supply. Keep a mud puddle damp in a sunny location, or fill a bucket with sand and enough water to make the sand moist.
Butterflies need two different types of plants—those that provide nectar for the adults to eat (nectar plant), and those that provide food for their offspring (caterpillar host plant). Some examples of nectar plants include butterfly bush, butterfly weed, lantana, purple coneflower, globe amaranth, heliotrope, rudbeckia, Joe-Pye weed, and milkweed. Host plants include parsley, dill, fennel, sunflowers and butterfly weed. Check with your local nursery expert to learn the kinds of butterflies that visit your area and the plants they need. Learn more about butterflies and attracting them to your garden by visiting the North American Butterfly Society.
Invite bats to your yard to help control pesky insects. One bat eats about 2,000 to 6,000 insects each night. Many of the insects they eat are vegetable crop pests, including the tomato horned worm, corn earworm, and many kinds of beetles. Bats also eat annoying insects like flies, mosquitoes, and gnats.
Bats can fly, but they are not birds. Rather, bats are mammals—they have hair and are warm-blooded, and their pups are fed milk. Bats are the only mammals capable of real flight. Their wings are made of thin layers of skin supported by bones like those in our arms and hands. These bones are very long and thin, especially the hand and finger bones that support the end of the wing.
Bats use echolocation to find and capture insects. They emit very high-pitched sounds from their vocal cords; these sounds spread out in front of the bat until they hit an object. The echoes that come back to the bat provide information on the size, movement, and speed of the object, allowing the bat to differentiate between food and objects that must be avoided, such as trees.
During the summer, bats require three things: food, water, and roost sites. The closer a potential roost site is to food and water, the more likely the site is to be inhabited. They’ll find their own food—night-flying garden insects. But because they drink on the fly, bats need water with a flat surface, uncluttered by vegetation, and at least 4 to 5 feet long. Natural or artificial ponds are a common source of drinking water.
Natural roost sites are rare in most gardens, but bat boxes can substitute. Bat boxes resemble large bird houses, but they are open on the bottom and are partitioned internally into several narrow spaces. Bat houses can give bats a much needed home. Many bats live in human buildings because their natural habitat is no longer available.
Bat houses should be mounted at least 12 to 15 feet off the ground, and facing an open, sunny south or southwest location. They work best if placed on a pole, side of a building, or tall mature tree with a lot of trunk space. Caulk all joints and stain or paint the box a dark color. Details for constructing or buying bat boxes can be found on the Bat Conservation International websites: http://www.batcon.org; and http://www. batconservation.org.
When winter comes, bats will migrate to warm climates, searching for a cave or mine to hibernate in. Just before spring, clean out your bat boxes and wait for the arrival of these beneficial mammals.