Spring is on its way, for most people, anyways. The weather has been weird here, but when you’ve lived in New York for your whole life like I have, you come to expect nothing less. It’s beautiful out today, but it could just as easily snow or sleet tomorrow. But, in the normal states and in other parts of the world, winter is melting away to reveal singing birds and buds on the trees.
Spring is the season for new life and new beginnings. With all the animals waking up from hibernation and returning from their winter homes in the south, what better way to welcome the new season and the animals than transform your yard into a wildlife friendly haven? That may sound like a daunting task, but it is, after all, a Green Challenge. In truth, you can make the process of inviting wildlife to your property as easy or as difficult as you want. For those of you who already have gardens, the process will be significantly easier.
The first step, as it almost always is with Green Challenges, is to talk to your family. Toss ideas back and forth, and go outside and survey your lawn together. Where can you put things? Will you need to rearrange anything? What can you see from your windows? Your porch? If you’re going to make your property more habitable for wildlife, you’ll want to be able to see the fruits of your efforts. Become familiar with your local wildlife and plant life. If you include native plants in your lawn, they will attract the local animals that interact with these plants in the wild. Native plants are better adapted to local soil conditions and are more resistant to natural pests and diseases. Foreign or invasive plant species can cause major issues for ecosystems. Brushing up your knowledge on local wildlife and vegetation and scouting the yard will be a good way to spend your Sunday in preparation for the upcoming week.
I’ll start with the easier, cheaper things that you can do to make your yard a little slice of heaven for animals. The three key parts of an animal-friendly lawn are food, water, and shelter. The more you have of these, the more animals that are likely to show up. Birds are one of the easiest animals to attract to your lawn. Bird basics include feeders, baths, and houses. You can purchase any of these three things, or build your own. To build a birdhouse, visit http://www.natureskills.com/featured/how-to-build-a-bird-house/. This website provides dimensions for various species of North American birds. If you’re not from the United States, be sure to do some research on what dimensions your local winged wildlife need.
You can purchase an expensive, fancy, stone bird bath, but making your own bird bath is simple and very cheap. It’s as easy as filling a bowl, a pan, a pie tin, etc. with water. One to two inches of water is ideal, and the bath should be placed in an area that has partial shade and a bush or tree located nearby for an easy getaway if the birds feel threatened.
To build a bird feeder and recycle a plastic bottle in one go, check out last week’s recycling project. The instructions I provided in last week’s post take only minutes to complete. I have officially implemented my own plastic bottle birdfeeder:
Picture courtesy of me
A hummingbird feeder can make another simple, affordable addition to your animal-friendly lawn. You can buy hummingbird feed or make your own at home. Go here to find an easy recipe for making hummingbird nectar: http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/hummingbird/2003034705008887.html. Be sure to use real sugar, not artificial sweeteners. Once you have placed your feeder, preferably in a shaded area (my mother has hers underneath the overhang of our porch), if you wait patiently and quietly, you may be rewarded with a breathtaking, up-close view of the delicate little bird. They are the only type of bird that can hover or fly backwards.
Creating a brush pile or a rock pile somewhere on your property will attract and provide shelter for a wide array of critters. Brush piles are ideal for rabbits, mice, turtles, weasels, and some species of birds. Rock piles tend to draw lizards, snakes, chipmunks, and mice. Structure your brush or rock piles by placing larger materials at the bottom of the pile and smaller materials at the top.
Here’s a wildlife-friendly trick that will save you money: reduce your use of pesticides, or avoid using them completely. Most pesticides are harmful to many animals upon contact, not just one target species. They have ingredients that are carcinogenic, and they have a track record of being harmful to pregnant women and their babies, sometimes causing birth defects. According to the National Wildlife Federation, about 20 million acres of land in the United States are planted as residential lawn. Those 20 million acres are doused with 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides annually, contaminating wildlife food sources. Trace amounts of pesticides in insects can harm the birds that prey on them. Visit http://www.beyondpesticides.org/ to find safer alternatives to pesticides. For those of you that have vegetable gardens to protect from pests, like my grandpa and great-grandpa, here’s an awesome website that will help you find safer, humane ways to ward off those crop-killing critters: http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/can-vegetable-gardens-be-wildlife-friendly.html.
Trees provide valuable shelter and food to many species of animals. If your property is lacking in trees, consider planting some. Do some research on what species of trees are suitable for you local wildlife. Nut-producing trees will attract squirrels. Understand that results gleaned from planting trees will be slow to come due to their sluggish pace of growth. Be sure to mark any small saplings that you plant so you don’t hit them with your lawn mower. If you have a dead tree on your property, consider keeping it, rather than cutting it down. Unless, of course, some part of your property will be in danger if it falls, such as your house, car, or shed. Dead trees are favored by woodpeckers and squirrels. Shrubbery and berry bushes draw in birds, as they provide food, shelter, and a place to socialize. As always, be sure that the plant life you implement are native species that won’t harm your local animals.
This year, as you plan what plants to place in your garden, consider planting flowers that will attract butterflies, honeybees, and hummingbirds. All three of these animals are important to pollinating and maintaining a healthy garden. Butterflies and hummingbirds provide breathtaking beauty and excitement, especially for children. This website will help you determine which species of flowers will be best equipped for attracting these flitting critters: http://www.wildflower.org/.
The typical lawn with trimmed, short grass provides little coverage for animals. This year, plan to reduce the amount of grass in your yard. Replace a section of it with some native ground cover. Not only will this be more inviting to wildlife, but it will reduce the time and effort that you have to put into caring for your lawn, namely mowing it.
A more expensive endeavor that you can carry out is making a pond on your property. Ponds can be a beautiful addition to any garden, and they are a hub for animals like frogs, toads, turtles, insects (and subsequently, bats), and small mammals. If done correctly, you can even keep fish in your pond. You can prevent mosquito reproduction by adding a small fountain to your pond to keep the water circulating, rather than becoming stagnant. Ponds can be expensive and they take work. However, I can say from experience that sitting on a garden swing at night with the stars overhead, listening to the sound of trickling water, is a peaceful and rewarding moment.
Don’t be discouraged from this Green Challenge if you live in an urban area. Even the smallest of yards is big enough for a shrub or a birdbath. Flower boxes can be placed in windows, and bird seed can be spread across a window sill. If you live in a housing complex, or some other situation where you are in close proximity to your neighbors, be sure to be considerate of your neighbors when you make your plans to draw in wildlife. You may be okay with mice, bats, snakes, raccoons, and the like, but your neighbor may not be. Also, be aware of the wildlife that you aren’t comfortable with attracting. My grandma is terrified of snakes, therefore adding a rock pile to her yard would not be a good idea.
Work together with your family and friends this week to begin transforming your yard into a wildlife sanctuary. The weather may not quite be warm enough to start planting flowers in your garden, but you can at least plan and research throughout the week. While you wait for the weather to improve, you can start constructing birdfeeders, birdhouses, bat houses, and get in touch with people or stores who can help you plan for constructing a pond. Find places where you can buy new trees from, or go exploring in your woods to find saplings that you can transplant to your yard.
Whatever you decide to do, whether you make a plastic bottle birdfeeder or completely redesign your lawn, I wish you luck. If you would like to share your Green Challenge experiences or you have ideas for future challenges, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. Send me pictures of your new lawn implements, and I’ll post them on my blog.
Come back on Monday for the Harsh Facts of the Week, Ecofriendly Economics, and the reveal of April’s Animal of the Month!