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Gardening to Attract Wildlife
January 24, 2011
(Snow covered nest).
Welcome to the Arctic.
Okay, so I stretched the truth a little.
An Arctic blast has moved into the Great Lakes Region with single digit and some sub-zero temperatures.
Yes, I'll give the Arctic some credit for this one.
I can't blame Canada or give Canada the credit for all of our winter issues, now can I?
Snow is still in short supply around here (though we are getting some lake effect) and that can be worrisome.
Not only does snow have great insulating properties, but we need non Lake Effect snow to help build up the water table and all the lake levels.
water levels that typically dwindle during the heat of summer.
Living in Michigan does have its advantages though.
The Great Lakes will keep us about 10 degrees warmer in the winter when temperatures to the wast of us plummet.
Most of the time that is.
When Wisconsin is a minus 10 to 15 degrees F., southwest Michigan may be a balmy 'zero' degrees F.
Isn't Life Grand?
As winter wears on, Natural food for birds and other wildlife becomes short in supply.
This may bring more birds to your feeders (not to mention four legged creatures).
Besides offering food and fresh water, you can also plan for the future by planning and planting a wildlife habitat.
Cold and nasty weather brings me instant birds.
Just about every bird I can have this time of year is stopping by.
Yolanda (our special needs daughter) enjoys the Cardinals the most and we are blessed with cardinals.
Cardinals do make for great photography.
Black Oil unflower seed is my main bird food, but this time of year I do have some scratch feed like cracked corn I toss out too.
I offer up peanuts and suet as well as many birds enjoy these protein and fat rich food.
Even a few wretched Starlings are flying in for a quick feed.
Starlings for the most part are making a mess out of the Bradford pear trees (no I didn't plant them).
Starlings are not a true migrating bird.
Some will migrate and others just hang out looking for food.
I must admit, they are kind of attractive in their winter plumage.
Last week I mentioned that the turkeys haven't come around lately.
Well, the big birds have strutted in twice this past week and twice "Ziggy the Poodle" has chased them away.
Not only do the feeders bring birds and wildlife into our yard, it is the natural gardening as well.
Yes, "Gardening For Wildlife."
You may wonder why I continue to bring up gardening, this time of year.
You're busy thumbing through catalogs, maybe placing orders.
Some of you are busy planting seeds for this spring.
I know I'm itching to get out there and get your hands dirty.
Besides, gardening is the number one Hobby followed by backyard birding.
I think all backyard birders garden to some degree and many gardeners care for the birds to some extent as well.
So now what?
Now, you need plans and ideas for planting and attracting your favorite wildlife.
Smart gardeners will plan ahead.
Besides, I have gardening on the brain this time of year so please bear with me and maybe pick-up a tip along the way.
Many birds are drawn into our yards year round because of what we plant, not simply what our feeders offer.
These birds become aware of their surroundings and may even feel a bit comfortable hanging out in your country or suburban yard.
Many species can adapt to humans, but most cannot adapt to the lack of habitat.
Each region and location within a region, offers native plants with value for native wildlife.
While most of us want the newest and latest exotic plant to add to our gardens, it is the native plants that add the true value for wildlife.
Natives typically require less attention a well.
With proper planning, you can have a yard and gardens with year round appeal for you and your birds.
Now some introduced plants do offer a good source of food, they may also be very invasive.
Russian olive is some places is a valued food source for birds, but is also a very invasive small tree.
Considering the Site:
Each site has its own combinations of assets and limitations.
Even in the middle of some urban areas, some of the best wildlife drama unfolds (I see it on a regular basis).
An established garden has trees, understory plantings and a self-seeding core of plants.
You may have a grove of trees reaching maturity.
This provides considerable value that even extends into its declining years when hollow trunks offer nest cavities.
Brush piles, decaying leaf litter and other organic materials enrich the soil and create feeding and shelter for many kinds of wildlife.
Physical features on the site can be equally important as well.
A natural water feature or a simple bird bath provides water for drinking and habitat.
Moderate slopes and varied terrain help to divide the garden into different habitat zones such as shade and sun.
Physical extremes can limit a garden's potential, but you will learn what lives and grows in your area and in those extremes and you take advantage of it.
Even a very small lot has the ability to create habit variety.
A well planned window box can draw a host of visitors from bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Hanging baskets can offer a nest site for certain species of birds.
Now, soils can limit what you can grow, but know what grows there or amend the soil.
Sandy or clay soils can limit plant growth.
(Too much shade or sun only will limit certain habitats as well.)
The best type of soil is a combination of sand, silt and clay.
This is called loam (there goes the nurseryman in me).
You may need a soil test to determine the soil PH.
Some plants prefer acid soil.
Some plants prefer Alkaline soil.
While others like it more neutral
Neighborhood factors can also diminish a garden's potential.
Isolation from sources of wildlife immigration and migration is a serious concern, though less so in the case of particularly mobile animals like birds and butterflies.
A background of heavy urban noise constrains animals dependent on vocal communication and will deter the more weary from entering a site.
Well placed trees, shrubs and berms can help to alleviate noise pollution.
Pollination and Other Partnerships:
The relationships between local animals and plants are a fascinating part of creation.
Do some planning and planting and you can encourage such partnerships in your gardens.
Cooperative relationships, such as hummingbird and butterfly pollination, in
But there is also natural predator-prey relationships in which the system, not the individual, benefits.
An example might be: Lady-bugs or Lady beetles and their larvae will devour the aphids that appear on plants like sagebrush and your roses in the spring.
Or a Cooper's Hawk snagging a sparrow or dove right in front of you.
The absence of all pesticides allows insects to prey and pollinate unimpeded.
Yes organic insecticides can do more harm than good under certain conditions.
Without pollinators, where would we be?
Without insects, what would many birds and other good bugs feed on?
God created a unique system, and now we must lend a helping hand.
Why not, we are Stewards of out planet aren't we?
Besides, mankind has played a roll in all of this.
Creating Successful Wildlife Habitat:
In the absence of nature:
You want to, plant to suit the natural topography, low points are suited to moisture-loving plants or water features and a high,
A sloping bank is ideal for dry rockeries.
Shield the garden from winds, especially cold winter wind.
Introduce food plants favored by animals in your region and that you have targeted.
Strive for diverse plantings by following nature's cue.
No matter where you live, there are native species of trees, shrubs, flowers and so on to attract and help care for wildlife in your region.
Coordinate habitat with water use.
Locate some food plants and feeders in more secluded areas of your property to attract the shyer, and ground feeding birds and animals.
Eliminate or minimize the use of pesticides, they will unbalance the predator-prey relationships natural gardening helps to create.
Arrange plantings of trees, shrubs and ground covers to lead shy wildlife closer to your house for better viewing.
Small trees like Flowering Dogwood in nature are an understory tree.
Not only do they perform better in the shade, they look more natural too.
Lose the rakes and pruning sheers, or at least limit their use.
Supplement food plants with feeding stations. Offer water and boost nesting opportunities with nest boxes.
That about does it for this week.
With the cold weather, be sure to keep your feeders filled and offer fresh water.
To freshen up on what is best to feed birds go to
It takes less effort to smile than to frown.
It takes less effort to share a smile than to ignore someone else.
When you share a smile, you feel good and you may have made a stranger's day.
Why not share your smiles with a stranger.
If nothing else, you just might confuse them.
Until next time,
To be capable of steady friendship or lasting love, are the two greatest proofs, not only of goodness of heart, but of strength of mind.
William Hazlitt (1778-1830) English Essayist
We have a pretty good teacher.
Don't you think?
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his masterís business.
John 15:15 (NIV)
"Treat the earth well:
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our
Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
Ancient Indian Proverb
Your friend indeed,
Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.
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