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First Feed the Insects
April 13, 2009

A Blessed week to you.

Surprisingly, only three readers found the Easter letter offensive enough to cancel.

To quote Harv's mother ( Harv is a loyal reader) with his blessings.

"If, I offend you . . . . then, I forgive you."

A wise saying don't you think?

Resurrection Sunday was a beautiful day all the way around.

My afternoon walk took me out in the woods, near the creek and some wetland.

In the distant was the call of a Ring-necked pheasant.

We don't see or hear them to much around here any more.

I managed to flush up a pair of Great horned owls as well.

They are some large birds.

The male landed in a large White pine on the other side of the creek and just sat there.

A few minutes later, the female flew off in front of me.

I couldn't get near the pine tree and not a wise move to even try it, but I'm guessing their nest must be high in that tree.

What magnificent birds they are.

Thank you all for your concerns about my employment.

Yes I am still angry and as one reader put it, mourning.

But I am praying about it too.

Little time was given for me to find another job in the green industry this time of year.

Still, we will manage.

Thank you for all your kind words on the Easter special.

Sometimes a guy has to do what he has to do.

The weather is slowly becoming more seasonal here in SW. Michigan.

Temperatures are still below normal in the low 40's and low 50's but it beats the low 30's we had last week at this time.

The daffodils are starting to bloom and the rabbits have long since polished off the crocus.

One thing nice about the cooler temperatures, the spring blooms last a bit longer and the trees and shrubs are slower to open.

Now this can be a good thing for fruit producing trees and shrubs, as we often get a nice cold snap that kills off many of the potential fruits.

Many of the American goldfinches have completed their molt, while others are taking their time.

Isn't it nice to see the bright yellow birds once again?

There are still a few Juncos hanging around.

Currently my yard is filled with Red-winged blackbirds, Cowbirds, Song sparrows, robins and a few of what I call winter birds even though they are year round birds.

Birds like cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, a nuthatch or two and a couple of Tufted titmice.

Female American robins are picking up nesting materials, even though many of the trees are still bare and the temperatures have been below normal, daylight hours and hormones wait for no man.

Do you have any birds hanging around with brightly colored breasts?

Many of these birds will perch in locations so the sun can shine on and reflect the colors more.

You know us guys, we can't wait to show off the the ladies.

Meadowlarks especially will follow the sun through the sky as they do this.

Male hummingbirds will fly and display their Gorget so the colors reflect just so to impress the ladies.

For example, without the sunlight, a Male Ruby-throated hummingbird's Gorget appears almost black instead of ruby red.

Well, with Spring finally showing some of its colors and life around here, it is safe to finally get some outdoor play in.

Grooming isn't much, as I prefer to leave much of the leaf litter in the flower beds.

Leaf litter turns into nice organic matter, feeding the plants and enriching the soil.

Leaf litter is used for bird nests, birds scratch for food under the litter.

Toads and salamanders will find the damp decaying material makes a good hide out.

Little sticks and twigs are used by many birds for nesting.

Wildlife gardening makes gardening a lot easier and more enjoyable.

You want to attract birds?

Feed the bugs.

Most or my readers are on the plus side of 50 and are pretty well established in life or don't plan on moving anytime soon.

The younger crowd may have plans to move down the road (we do it every 5 to 7 years on average).

Either way, you can still plant gardens to attract wildlife and you can do it on a budget.

Seed swaps, planting young plants that grow quickly.

You may have a family member or friend that with permission will allow you to dig up certain plants to relocate.

Where there's a will, there is often a way.

Even window boxes and flower pots will attract some wildlife.

To attract birds you must first feed the insects.

Now this may seem a bit early in the year to think about insects, but now is the time to plan ahead if you want birds in your yard year round.

Birds and animals depend on different foods at different times of the year.

They are opportunistic when it comes to food and will eat a wider variety of food if it is available.

Many natives provide food for insects and birds.

So, when young trees or wildflowers sprout in an inconvenient place, too close to the back door, or in front of a window or near a sidewalk, the temptation is to remove it right now.

You may consider transplanting it or waiting till the end of the growing season to remove it.


A little black cherry tree is a wonderful host for Tiger swallowtails.

The larvae will feed birds and keep your butterfly population going strong.

Allow the tree to grow and the fruits will feed multiple species of birds and small mammals.

By waiting, you enjoy the best of nature.

Although gardeners might believe that when they plant a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) native to China, they are helping butterflies.

Butterfly bushes are merely attracting the adults who sip the nectar (which plays an important role).

Hummingbirds enjoy them as well.

The plant cannot be eaten by the butterfly larvae.

Even a lowly fly maggot, which lives inside the hard round galls often seen on the stems of goldenrod, has an important place in the ecosystem.

Fly maggots are really high in proteins and fats, and chickadees love them.

We feed them seeds which is good, but when they get one of those maggots, they can really make it through the cold winter night.

So if you cut down the goldenrod, the wild black cherry, the milkweed and other natives, you eliminate the larvae and other insects and the birds go hungry.

Yes, to attract birds, you must feed the insects first.

The typical garden might hold weeping cherries, lilacs and crape myrtles.

They are beautiful, but itís a barren wasteland to native insects and thus birds.

You donít have to cut down the lilacs (hummers and pollinators enjoy them) but they are doing little for the insects and birds.

I've mentioned before, I have lilacs, peonies, bearded iris etc. but these are for my peronal enjoyment and have special meaning (past down for generations).

But a vast majority of my plantings are native for various reasons and feeding the birds is an important reason.

There are lists of plants for what attracts what, which was then eaten by what, and so on.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is what I believe to be the premier orinization and web site to offer names of natives.

Your State and province "Department of Natural Resources" or what ever name they go by will offer you suggestions as well.

Almost all North American birds other than seabirds ( 96 %) feed their young with insects, which contain more protein than beef.

So the message is this:

You as gardeners and nature lovers could slow the rate of extinction and possibly prevent it, by planting natives in your yards.

In the northeast, a patch of violets will feed fritillary caterpillars.

A patch of phlox could support eight species of butterflies.

The buttonbush shrub, which has little white flowers, feeds 18 species of butterflies and moths; and blueberry bushes, which support 288 species of moths and butterflies.

While it is true that many adult birds enjoy fruits and seeds, insects make up a vast majority of the diet for baby birds that require the high protein to grow fast and strong.

Spicebush, viburnums, other native trees, shrubs and flowers offer more than fruits and seeds.

They provide food for insects that in turn feed our birds.

If left alone, "Nature" will play out like it is intended to do.

Birds, toads, frogs, benificial insects etc. will keep other insects in check.

When we flood the landscapes with toxins, "Nature" gets out of balance and then you have to worry about insect plagues.

When "Gardening For Wildlife" always keep nature first and nature will reward you.

With any habitat, offer fresh water for drinking and bathing.

Mud puddles are handy for butterflies and certain birds.

Get creative, but allow nature to be your guide.

Remember this however, because a plant says it is native, it may not be native to your region and that does make a differece.

Well, its time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your thought for the week.

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you'll never walk alone.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) British Actress

Would you expect anything less from a classy person?

There is nothing I can add to this except to smile.

We all know how smiles can brighten up a day and make you feel better.

Smile at the worls and always look for the good.

Be sure to share your smiles.

Until next time.

"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,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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