Summer is upon us and the great outdoors beckon even more than usual.
Story by Glenda Harris
Whether it’s entertaining, cooking out or enjoying family time in our backyard, nature provides the perfect backdrop. Perhaps not quite as enjoyable (although necessary), we also spend many hours doing lawn and landscape maintenance. What if, while doing our routine yard work every week, we were also optimizing the space as supportive habitat for birds, butterflies, bees and more?
More than simply beautiful to see and entertaining to watch, animals and insects play an important role in the food chain and the more people involved in conservation, the healthier our communities and our planet. About half of endangered or threatened species have the majority of their habitat on private lands, giving landowners an essential role in their conservation.
By creating your own backyard wildlife habitat and having it certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), you are collaborating with Mother Nature. In essence, you become a citizen conservationist, a part of the solution going forward.
Certify your habitat
Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife. Turning your yard, balcony container garden, schoolyard, work landscape, or roadside greenspace into a Certified Wildlife Habitat is fun, easy, and can make a lasting difference for wildlife. Learn more at nwf.org.
The Six Elements
1. FOOD To supplement nature’s bounty of food, hang bird feeders. Plant trees that bear fruit, berries, cones and nuts. [PRO TIPS] Cardinals love holly berries. Hummingbirds are attracted to red, fuchsia and orange flowers. Native bees like Mexican heather, jasmine and most fragrant flowers. Butterflies are attracted to aster, calendula, cosmos, day lilies, marigold, lavender, zinnia, and Shasta daisy, to name a few. Monarch butterflies are protected and might soon be declared endangered. They desperately need milkweed for sustenance and to complete their lifecycle. You can plant milkweed in the ground or in containers and attract these beautiful creatures.
2. WATER A shallow dish, water feature, bird bath or natural pond are all perfect. Butterflies need mud puddles for minerals and nutrients.
3. COVER Deciduous trees offer summer shelter and shade. Plant perennial bushes and hedges to give animals a year-round escape from weather and predators. Bat houses are easy to make (just Google it) and they help control mosquitoes. Birdhouses at least 6 feet high will give Eastern bluebirds, wrens and other native backyard birds a safe haven from reptiles and birds of prey.
4. NESTING Animals need a safe place to nurture and raise their young. In addition to the aforementioned birdhouse, create natural areas around groups of trees with perennial shrubs and tall grassy plants. The in-between areas of mulch and soft ground are suitable for burrowing. Ground cover provides a low-to-the-ground refuge and choices include juniper, creeping phlox, plumbago and Confederate jasmine.
5. SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES Use locally grown plants or seeds and take care to not use pesticides or herbicides whenever possible. Non-chemical and organic products are readily available. Regularly inspect your trees and plantings and prune, water and fertilize as recommended.
6. GET CERTIFIED Follow the instructions on the NWF website to document your efforts and become certified. Then, share your pride and motivate others with the attractive sign or plaque they offer.
8 Benefits of creating a wildlife habitat
1. Replenish food supply in your area and for migratory birds passing through.
2. Provide shelter for small animals and birds and a hiding place from predators.
3. Create nesting space to raise young.
4. By planting native plants and trees, you assure sources of pollen and nectar, critical for the pollinators of our world.
5. Aid in the overall preservation of wildlife.
6. Enjoyment of observing wildlife.
7. Increased awareness and knowledge of beneficial plants, flowers and trees in your yard.
8. Teachable moments and the perfect opportunity to pass on your love of nature, wildlife and conservation. This is our home. If we don’t take care of it, who will?
Writer’s note: As I wrote this in my backyard (yes, a Certified Wildlife Habitat), I was visited by Carolina chickadees, nuthatches, a magnificent screeching red-tailed hawk overhead and one very vocal male cardinal. Apparently energized by the holly berries he had been munching on, he cheerfully serenaded me with his song … for 15 minutes! This is but one example of the satisfaction and joy to be found when we learn about our natural world and become a mindful partner in supporting wildlife habitats. No matter where you live, there are many small things we can all do that make a difference.