Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gardening for Birds & Other Wildlife

I was surprised and happy to see an Indigo Bunting in my yard for the first time since fall migration in 2009. One reason I was so excited was because when we moved from the Atlanta, GA area I left behind a wonderful habitat for wildlife for a yard with no habitat. I traded a yard with 30+ trees and multitude of shrubs and flowers to a yard with 2 pine trees and a scrubby small oak tree.

I was used to seeing Northern Cardinals, Robins, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhee’s, Carolina Wrens & Chickadee’s, Eastern Bluebirds and Redheaded woodpeckers nest in my yard. I wasn’t sure how to start when the Master Gardener coordinator from Gwinnett County, GA emailed me about the NWF Backyard Habitat program. So I went to the NWF website and started implementing their 4 steps for creating a wildlife friendly garden/backyard. When I look at my yard 9 years later it is hard to believe it is the same yard.

I attribute seeing more variety of birds in my yard to the maturing of my garden. My work over the years seems to be paying off. So I thought I’d blog about gardening for wildlife again and encourage you to give it a try if you haven’t tried it yet. I've added and rework my planting areas over the years to incorporate Food, water sources, cover from predators and nesting areas. My bluebird box was immediately occupied in Feb. 2005 when first installed and has been used every year since. Carolina Chickadees and Carolina wrens have also nested in the yard. Ruby throated Humming birds, Cardinals, Brown Thrashers, Brown headed nuthatches, Red headed woodpeckers, Downy woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse visit my feeders and bring their babies to feed and bathe in our garden.

It's not hard to get started at all. One of the easiest things to do is just add a bird bath. This can be especially important in dry months or droughts. Here are some ideas for getting started in your own yard.

FOOD: I relied heavily on bird feeders early on and still use them to feed birds when natural food in not available and as a supplement. But I have added Native forbs*, plants, shrubs and trees provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts many wildlife species require to survive.Blueberries are a favorite food for the Mocking birds who visit our yard.

WATER: All wildlife needs a clean source of water for drinking and bathing and reproduction. Since I don’t have a natural lake, river, pond, ocean, stream or wetland in my backyard I use man made water sources. The easiest way of course is to use a bird bath. I have several in my yard set a different heights including one at ground level. One is a small fountain with recirculating water that small birds love. The ground level is a favorite with some of my shyer and larger visitors. We even see occasional opossums visit our 250 gallon pond with waterfall. One pool of the waterfall is shallow with flat rocks and birds will bathe and drink from it as well. The sound of that pond can attract the wildlife as well. I have recently created a small rain garden I’m hoping to create a puddling area for butterflies.

COVER: I didn't have a lot of cover when we first moved to this house. I had to wait for trees and shrubs to grow up. After 9 years they are producing a fair amount of cover and shade that was missing from my landscape. Wildlife need places to feel safe from people, predators, and inclement weather. Behind my back fence is a small wooded buffer area that provides some cover now and early on. Thickets and brush piles offer great cover with bushy leaves and thorns. I started and keep a brush pile that can be used by birds and other wildlife. Our pond is home to several frogs and we have a toad abode as well. The rock of the waterfall is home to several skinks and anoles.

PLACE TO RAISE YOUNG: Wildlife need places to reproduce, bear and raise their young, and see their young survive to adulthood, all safe from predators, bad weather and human interference. Forming a wildlife habitat creates a place for the complete life-cycle of a species to occur, from tadpole to frog, from caterpillar to butterfly. Many of the cover features in your habitat can also serve as a place for raising young. Consider a wildflower patch for butterflies to lay eggs, constructed birdhouses for nesting birds, ponds for amphibians and fish are places for raising young.

I'm also adding a host plant garden for butterflies to complement what I've been doing for the birds and other wildlife that visit our yard. I'll talk more about that in a later blog.

May is Garden for Wildlife Month and it is a great time to make your yard friendlier to wildlife. It doesn't matter if you’re a first time gardener with only a small space on your patio for containers or if you are an expert gardener with acres to plant. If you take the challenge and turn your yard, garden or outdoor spaces into a habitat for wildlife consider becoming a certified wildlife Habitat with National Wildlife Federation.

*Forb: A broad-leaved herb other than a grass, especially one growing in a field, prairie, or meadow