Backyard wildlife habititats – certified or not

I recently filled out a questionnaire from the National Wildlife Federation to qualify my garden as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. The answers you give are on your honor, so I think that a toxic waste dump could probably become “certified”, but the concept is honorable enough.

my-house-kg-36In fact, certification or not, my garden is inhabited by just about every critter imaginable. I have bugs, bats, squirrels, frogs and toads, snakes, chipmunks, a groundhog, fish, mice, moles, and birds from herons and hawks to cardinals and everything in between. And lots more that I don’t know how to categorize. Are dragonflies bugs? Butterflies? Slugs?

No bears to my knowledge. Yet. Deer, fox, geese, occasionally ducks, and who knows what else visit regularly.

According to the National Wildlife Federation the elements to create a wildlife habitat are to provide food, water, shelter, places to raise young, and to practice sustainable gardening. But why invite wildlife into your backyard? Well, I think I enjoy the fauna as much as the flora.

Sustainable gardening is a much bigger topic to address another day, but a part of the certification is to submit that you don’t use pesticides, or do so as a last resort to prevent a coup, and of course I don’t. My intentions are not quite so noble, however. Other than deer decimating my hosta collection the past couple years I have rarely seen enough damage to plants to substantiate the labor and expense of spraying poisons to keep them away.

dscn0318At one time or another through the year there is an invasion of tent caterpillars, Japanese beetles, lacebugs, bagworms, spider mites, and others that come and go without my notice. Sometimes the coarse foliage of Harry Lauder’s Walkingstick looks like green lace, but it recovers, and I don’t recall more than a couple plants in my garden that have ever perished from insect damage. A couple years ago a Catawba crape myrtle (which is tough as a weed) perished from a heavy aphid infestation. I should have planted a more resistant variety.

For better or worse the garden presents ample shelter and places for wildlife to raise their young. A groundhog lives under the shed, with a second home on the other side of the swimming pond, but the worst I can figure he has done is steal a bit of water from the pond. One day the shed will fall over into the pit he has dug, but that’s a worry for another day. He’s not a bother to me, though I’ve accidently scared the bejeebers out of him a few times.

I assume that every garden this size (more than an acre) has its share of brush piles. I probably have my share and a couple neighbor’s. I shudder to think what critters may lurk within.

And there’s food and water in abundance. I haven’t picked a single blueberry the past couple years. I’m probably lacking in observation skills, but I’ve never seen fruit on my amelanchier. The birds see no reason to wait on me.

mahonia-beali-fruitSome berries persist for many months and others for no more than a day or two. Like blueberries, the grape-like fruit of mahonia never last for more than a day or two once they get ripe, but holly and nandina berries will often last until they fall off months later. I suppose that some berries are tastier than others.

The NWF gives suggestions on adding water sources to your garden with birdbaths and small fountains. From my experience in a garden with a variety of water features, birds enjoy shallow moving water, such as streams, or shallow areas at the margin of a pond, as long as the area is open so they can make a quick getaway from predators.

fish3And with ponds you can have fish. Goldfish and koi are wonderful pets. They don’t annoy the neighbors, and if I forget to feed them for a month or two, or even a year,  they survive fine without me. And as a bonus a garden pond attracts frogs, toads, and dragonflies, and you don’t have to pay for them.

I’m sure that many think that the ‘habitat’ must be an unruly jungle, and there are times when I think that mine is. My garden has room enough for me and a small park full of critters, but any garden can get a start toward being more wildlife friendly by simply not spraying poisons here and there, and using plants that will stand up to a bit of bug abuse.

So, I have a nice plaque announcing my certification that sits on a shelf in the shed amongst other odds and ends. Perhaps one day it will be mounted on a post in the garden next to the sign warning “Don’t feed the bears’.

For more information about all of this, or to become certified, visit the NWF website. And please, enjoy your garden, birds, bugs, bats, and all.

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