Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat
by Holly Boettcher
Family-friendly activities during summer vacation that are both interesting and inexpensive are in high demand. But did you know that you can certify your very own backyard with the National Wildlife Federation? All you need to do is provide the following basic elements to attract songbirds and pollinators such as hummingbirds, bumble bees, and honeybees.
Food sources are a critical component to wildlife habitats. Children love to help plant native perennials such as Purple Coneflower, Showy Goldenrod, and Little Bluestem. Incorporate berry producing trees such as American Mountain Ash, or Wild Red Cherry to watch Cedar Waxwings enjoy a buffet of fruit in the fall. Supplemental seed feeders are another way to attract songbirds. Consider leaving a dead tree or branch in your yard, which not only attracts insects, but also encourages fungi and lichens to grow. Think of the decomposing wood as a buffet for the birds.
And don’t forget about Hummingbirds. Although they enjoy nectar feeders, they also need protein, especially when caring for their nestlings. If you use nectar feeders, keep in mind the nectar spoils quickly. Be sure to clean the feeders every few days in a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach, rinse well, then refill with nectar made of one cup of boiling water and ¼ cup of sugar. Cool before adding to your feeder. There is no need for red dye, as it can sicken the hummingbirds.
All life needs a water source to survive. A shallow dish, backyard birdbath, or a small garden pond will do the trick! Don’t forget to keep the containers clean, rinse daily, then add fresh water. Put a small rock in the center so the birds don’t drown. Your children can help with cleaning birdbaths and filling them each day.
Children can also help identify places for wildlife to find shelter from extreme weather. Many species need a place to hide from predators. Your backyard friends need to feel safe in the habitat you are creating for them. The National Wildlife Federation suggests providing at least two places to find shelter. Some good options are shrubs such as arborvitae and evergreens, a roosting box, ground cover, or a meadow.
A Place to Raise Their Young
Wildlife needs a sheltered place to raise a family. Much of the above cover areas will double as a home for your backyard friends. They are looking for comfortable places to date, mate, and raise their young. Don’t forget to incorporate host plants such as common Milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies so you can have quite an adventure with your children looking for caterpillars.
Once you provide the above four elements, you can take it a step further by managing your property in an environmentally friendly way. Be mindful of soil and water conservation, use native plants, eliminate invasive plants, reduce use of chemicals, and replace lawn areas with pollinator gardens.
Make Your Commitment Official
Turning your backyard into a certified habitat is an easy and fun way to get the entire family involved in making an impact on neighborhood wildlife. To learn more please visit: http://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx and above all, HAVE FUN!