How to set up a fun family nature habitat by Thomas Hollyday
It’s easier than you think. Plant a few berry bushes to start. Then improve an area of the yard that already has some of the vegetation and terrain that supports wildlife. Trees and shrubs for animals to hide and nest in are important. A source of water is ideal. Make sure the area has paths and shade. Always keep in mind that you are decorating for animal tastes and not to make a pretty place for humans.
To paraphrase the baseball image, build a hospitable area and wildlife will come. Of course, depending on yard size you usually can’t build more than a partial ecosystem. A complete ecosystem according to Marcus Schneck in his book The Backyard Wildlife Garden has to have the wildlife, plants, water, soil and other earth features as well as an atmosphere of wilderness, security, and succession. Succession is the gradual change of habitat from one type of plant to another. Wildlife enjoys travelling back and forth between open fields, grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and forest.
A nature area needs a source of water. Don’t rely on a stream that is open to road salt and trash. The water needs to be clean. Ask yourself if you would drink the water you find in the stream or water source. If your answer is no, then ask yourself how you can expect wildlife to enjoy that pollution. You probably can not change the quality of the natural water source. However, you can provide clean fresh water on a daily basis in a simple metal tub. The container should be easy to clean. Avoid stoneware birdbaths that cannot be scrubbed easily. Many of the metal containers used for livestock are inexpensive and durable. Decide what wildlife you will serve and make sure the container is large enough. Some rocks set in the middle of any tub are all that wild birds need to perch on to have a drink. Remember though that wildlife is messy and water should not be allowed to get dirty with bathing. You might want to have a bathing tub and a smaller drinking container. Don’t forget the little animals. An aluminum tray of water can take care of thirsty creatures living back under the weeds. Remember to clean the water bowls like you do for your pets inside.
Like humans, animals have their favorite foods. The more you research wildlife, the more you will find the proper berries and grasses for each to munch. Find out what kind of berries grow best in your area. Some of these fruits are even delicious for humans to eat. Birds and Blooms lists the top ten berries for wild birds: cherry, crabapple, flowering dogwood, firethorn, hackberry, hawthorn, mountain ash, honeysuckle, winterberry, and serviceberry. One popular plant is the butterfly bush. Some consider this plant too invasive. Butterflies can be counted on to come by and sample its blossoms. Level a sheet of good plywood on rocks and put out daily nutrition. Use bunched chicken wire held in shape around small rocks to protect seeds for chipmunks and wild birds. Keep stale food cleaned up or you’ll draw too many raccoons.
Switch grass can be a wonderful place for animals to hide. The tall growth provides overhead cover for protection, nest sites and free movement to search for food. Check out other grasses that might grow well in you area. Remember that you are looking for height, not the carefully trimmed appearance of a freshly mowed lawn. Weeds can also be beneficial so check them out for value to wildlife before you pull them out.
Try to design habitat that will serve all seasons. In summer, animals will probably want a shady spot to sit and observe without getting too much hot sun. In winter, an easy to carry and clean aluminum baking tray will keep a lot of fresh water ice free most of the day. All year, evergreens provide hiding places for animal homes.
Do plan the nature area with local plants and wildlife in mind.
Do plan for insects, arachnids, amphibians, reptiles, birds as well as mammals.
Do keep a nature journal and reference books.
Do get your family involved with nature activities.
Don’t construct the nature area far away from people areas.
Don’t use pesticides or non organic fertilizer near the site.
Don’t plant anything that will be toxic to the animals you want to attract.
These are only a few of the characteristics of good nature habitats to welcome wildlife. To learn more, check out the National Wildlife Foundation and their Certified Wildlife Habitat program at www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife.
Switch grass -outsidepride.com
Butterfly bush -todayshomeowner.com
Water trough -Behlencountry.com
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