Wildlife Gardening

Sep 11 2014

Water Ponds And Wildlife – How To Attract More Animals To Your Backyard

butterflyWildlife require water just as humans do. Water is essential for life. Songbirds use it for bathing and preening; waterfowl and shorebirds for finding food and escaping predators; and muskrat, mink and beaver for every part of their existence.

Providing water can be as simple as a bird bath or small fiberglass water pond or as complex as the construction of a large, excavated wetland with an artificial or clay liner.

The simplest method of providing water is a bird bath. The structure need not be elaborate, an old pie tin works as well as a prefabricated concrete structure. Make sure the water is no deeper than three inches and that smooth bottom baths are enhanced with some type of structure or objects for perching. To cut back on maintenance, simply hang a garden hose above the bath and allow water to drip into the bath at a slow rate.

Birds also require water in winter. By providing open water, you may potentially attract more birds for viewing. There are a variety of options including dog and poultry water heaters as well as commercial water heaters designed specifically for bird baths.

It is important that you always keep placement in mind both for the bird’s safety and for your viewing enjoyment. Keep the bird bath near a favorite viewing location but at least ten feet away from vegetation or other cover. This will help in preventing neighborhood predators such as domestic cats from killing birds.

Small backyard ponds with artificial liners are another method of providing water for wildlife. Choose a location that receives sun part of the day to stimulate plant growth. Begin pond construction with a pre-fabricated fiberglass shell or similar item such as a kid’s wading pool or old washtub. A good option to both of these methods is utilization of 20 mil black plastic.

If you begin with a child’s wading pool or washtub, it should be lined with 10-30 mil black plastic. This will insure water does not leak from the pond and will give a more natural background color than that of a wading pool or other structure.

Begin by excavating soil out of an area roughly equal to the size and shape of your liner. Remember, the location of your pond should be where you can view it from your house. You should also consider keeping it within reach of a garden hose for filling purposes or and electrical supply for powering any pumps or aerators. A pond need not be more that ten feet long and two to five feet wide. Providing varying depths from a few inches to a couple feet will increase chances of different wildlife using your pond

After fitting the liner, field stones, flat rocks or timber can help hold and hide the edges of the plastic liner. Adding soil over the top of the positioned liner will allow future planting of aquatic vegetation. An alternate method to lining the entire pond bottom with soil is to put aquatic plants into pots and then submerge the pots in desired locations within the pond. Stabilize pots with rocks or other means to prevent tipping. Plan to have enough aquatic plants to cover 30-40 percent of the surface area.

Provide areas for birds and turtles to make use of your pond by adding log perches or a rock island. Creating a sandy, gravel beach in one corner can provide the grit birds require for digesting food. A sandy substrate also makes looking for wildlife tracks an educational experience. After you have completed all the necessary preparations, fill the pond with water. If using tap water rather than well water, let stand for a week to let chemicals like chlorine dissipate.

You may choose to see if plants will come naturally. This could occur through transfer of seeds on bird’s feet or from their droppings. Another method to introduce potential plant and invertebrate life is to scoop muck from an existing wetland and transfer it to your pond.

Keep an eye on your pond often and log the plant growth as a family activity. And be sure to keep watching for new wildlife to your new oasis.

Creating Wildlife Gardens

hedgehogCreating a wildlife garden allows you take part in your larger surrounding environment. Often gardens are completely shut out from the natural landscape around it and aren’t welcoming to birds and other wildlife. Adding a few well placed and well chosen shrubs or trees can make all the difference when trying to attract birds to your garden.

Map out and observe your surroundings to see what natural habitats are close by. Are there any ponds, rivers, or streams? Are parks, golf courses or nature reserves nearby? Remember, your garden is part of the larger environment. Knowing what the local ecosystems are will better enable you to plan your garden.

In order to attract birds, gardens must supply them with food, water, shelter and nesting areas. Provide for different bird species by making available a variety of seed and berry producing trees and shrubs, such as Washington hawthorn, mountain ash, cherry and viburnum. Flowers such as hollyhock, nasturtium, and sunflower produce seed which attract birds as well. Indigenous plants, those which grow naturally in a specific area, are very effective at attracting local bird species. Try to incorporate some of these into your garden.

Also, be sure to provide food throughout the year. For example, in the spring have a few different berry producing shrubs available, such as blueberries and raspberries. In the summer, perennials provide seed and in the fall trees such as dogwood and serviceberry bear fruit which birds will seek out. Birds which over winter in your area will need sustenance provided by winterberry and other fruit bearing shrubs.

Different birds need different foods and different environments in which to live. Robins, for example, eat at ground level where they forage for insects and worms while many other birds prefer to be off the ground a bit in the midst of a perennials garden where they eat the seeds of the flowers. Some birds, like grosbeaks, prefer the height of shrubs and others still, such as the woodpecker, prefer to be in the canopy of taller trees where their able to find insects in the tree’s bark.

Plants, while providing food, also supply birds with shelter. Evergreens and other dense shrubs provide nesting areas and protection from cold winter winds and create shade in the heat of the summer. While it may be impossible to incorporate all these habitats into your garden, plan at least a couple. The more habitats you can provide the more birds will flock to your garden.

Along with food, birds require water for both drinking and bathing. If there aren’t any natural water sources near your garden, be sure to place a birdbath or water dish in the area. Keep the water fresh by filling it daily. In the winter when the water freezes knock out the ice and replace with fresh water. Most home and garden stores that stock birdbaths sell small water heaters which will prevent freezing. If you are considering using one of these consult an electrician to help with the installation. If their aren’t any natural water systems in your area, consider planning a water garden, just remember bird prefer shallow water to deep water. Waterfalls and bubbling fountains will attract a number of birds since most species are drawn to the sound of running water.

If you’re contemplating using a bird feeder, maintain it and be sure to keep it stocked as birds often come to depend on these feeders, especially during the lean, harsh months of winter. Since birds are attracted to a variety of different foods, supply them with seeds, berries, fats, breads and nuts. Avoid salty foods. Using a birdhouse for your seed provides shelter as well as a place for food.

Creating a garden which attracts birds has positive effect on the environment; you’re providing a new habitat for birds and well as beneficial insects and other wildlife. While birds will thrive and will benefit the most from your efforts, you’re also providing years of enjoyment for both yourself and visitors to your garden.

Bird Feeders – A Little Kindness To Our Feathered Friends

birdA bird feeder is a small container usually shaped like a cylinder used to attract birds to a garden. They vary in shape but are often designed to be tall and slender and to hang from a tree branch. The container is filled with birdseed and usually has a grill or small opening through which the bird can get the food. Most have small perches on which the birds can stand, but some simple use a wire mesh that the birds can easily grip. The owner may buy a small tray that fits underneath the feeder to catch errant seeds.

The colour of the feeder, and the type of seeds placed in the container, are changed in order to attract different species of birds. The most common is millet or sunflower seed but any can be used that apply to the diet of the local wildlife. This is useful to bird watchers who want to attract various species of bird to their home for photography or study. Living food such as mealworms can be placed in some feeders, allowing birds with offspring to use the device.

One problem with bird feeders is that other garden animals will be attracted. Often, squirrels or even mice will steal the seed. Some companies produce separate feeders for mammals, and some employ inventive methods of deterring pests. Some feeders have perches that very lightly shock or fold downwards when an object heavier than a bird is placed on it, causing any interlopers to be cast aside.

Different types of birds sometimes have their own types of bird feeder. For insect eating birds you can get a feeder that contains a block of suet that can be slowly worked away on. For birds like hummingbirds, which feed off nectar, there are feeders that contain a liquid and sugar mixture than the birds can drink. Some species of birds like to feed at ground level, and so there are feeders built for this purpose.

Planting For Wildlife

robinThere is one indisputable fact; our natural world is shrinking. As we make our way through any community, the signs of growth are everywhere: new communities being built on what was once a corn field, a strip mall or “fashion” park emerging from once dense forest land, an office park here and there completes the scene. Growth is inevitable, but it is important that we view the ramifications from all sides.

The one side that often is overlooked is the impact of this growth on the natural world: the destruction of natural habitat and the loss of species diversity. Habitat is many things: food, water, cover and protection, nesting sites. And, different animals need different habitats. When acres of former wildlife habitat are destroyed, it is important to consider what happens to all of the creatures that called those acres home.

There is so much individual homeowners can do to restore that lost habitat. And, as one backyard after another makes a few important additions to improve habitat, they begin to develop a network of “greenways” which are simple safe havens in which animals can safely live and move.

In our own yard, we have made a few additions that have both improved the beauty of our landscape and have created a safe and happy home for so many birds that call our backyard home. The first step was to provide plenty of food and water. We have a number of elevated bird bathes near shrubs and trees. In addition, we are blessed with a creek that runs through the front of our property. Just remember to keep your birdbath filled with fresh water, especially during the summer months. And, keep those feeders full. In addition to a variety of seeds and nuts, make sure to provide much needed suet in the cold winter months.

Last fall, we made the decision to continue ridding our yard of grass, and planted our front yard with a multitude of small trees and shrubs, mostly native varieties. Many wildlife species depend upon evergreen and deciduous berry-producing shrubs. They provide shelter, nesting sites and food. Bushes that provide good food sources and are wonderful landscape plants include: northern bayberry, dogwood, winterberry, serviceberry, clethra, inkberry and hollies.

It is essential for birds to have safe nesting sites, so consider investing in a few nesting boxes this spring…. put them up quickly as the birds have begun their work. We have left a few trees in our woods that are somewhat unsightly, but we know that each year they provide nesting cavities for our feathered families.

A note of caution … the family cat. We have a much loved kitty, Peaches, who would like nothing more than hunting down those birds and small mammals that we work hard to protect. The domestic cat is among the most numerous pet in the country (nearly 30% of households have cats and it is estimated that there are 40 million feral cats as well). It is thought that birds make up approximately 20 – 30% of cats prey. That is enormous stress on an already compromised population. So, be mindful of the family kitty and either keep them inside (which we simply cannot do) or make sure that the birds hear him coming!

So, let’s all do our part to ensure that future generations will not be denied the pleasures of a natural world that we sometimes take for granted. They cannot afford lobbyists in Congress, nor can they petition for their survival. It is up to us to give them a voice, and a chance.

In 1985, Briscoe White opened The Growers Exchange in an abandoned Texaco station on a busy urban street corner in Richmond, Virginia. The facility has grown over the years, and is now 5 distinct growing environments with 5 acres under cover. Briscoe has over 25 years of gardening experience. For further information on gardening products or gardening tips please visit our gardening blog.

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