are wild things in my backyard. They drop by for a quick meal,
perch on twigs and branches, catch a quick sip of water and
move on. Others beat bright wings in the breeze passing from
flower to flower. Birds and butterflies pass through the island
of my backyard, stopping to sample their respective gastronomical
preferences. They are among the more colorful creatures that
visit. I like to sit back and watch them in my backyard habitat.
The word “habitat” is of Latin origin, derived from “habitablis,”
which refers to a place that is “fit to dwell in.” Each species
of living things has a preferred environment within which
it will thrive. While my backyard is a human habitat, I have
changed it in some relatively simple ways to meet the habitat
needs of other species. I have actively modified my backyard
to encourage the visits of birds, butterflies and other living
things. While natural wildlife habitats are shrinking, I decided
to make my yard a small refuge for creatures that are finding
it difficult to survive in the spreading human habitat of
mass housing, chemically treated lawns, paved streets and
Many of these visiting species enrich my yard by pollinating
plants and devouring insect pests. They also add an enlightened
vigor to the space with their songs, color and liveliness.
In general, the more diverse the environment, the greater
the variety of living things that will be nurtured by it and
the healthier that environment will be. A yard that consists
solely of a manicured lawn has little diversity. It will be
avoided by many creatures because it doesn’t meet their nutritional
and safety needs. Add some trees, bushes and bird feeders
and the mix of wildlife will change dramatically.
I have seven trees of six species standing over my yard that
are of varying age and height. There are also more than a
dozen large bushes from at least seven different species.
Most of these trees and bushes produce flowers, fruits or
seeds that the wild winged things prefer. About a quarter
of my backyard is devoted to vegetable and flower gardens.
Rising from the vegetable garden are dozens of sticks I salvaged
from domestic pruning projects and curbside debris. The sticks
support snow peas and tomato plants as well as providing convenient
perches for birds that glean insect pests from the garden.
In the middle of the vegetable garden, I planted a small island
of flowers that brightly beckon butterflies and other pollinators.
The garden also contains three large trellises that I built
from tree branches, collected from the streets after severe
storms. The trellises support gourd plants, climbing nasturtiums
and morning glories. They also serve as perches for birds
and sunning spots for butterflies drawn to the blooms of the
spreading vines. Thick grape vines line the fence on the yard’s
southern border. I have two bird feeders in the yard. A large
one hangs from a mature cherry tree I planted 20 years ago.
A small one hangs outside my kitchen window, behind a large
bush that provides cover and a “waiting room” for birds waiting
their turn in the pecking order to approach and feed. I can
observe feathered feasters from a few inches away through
the window that separates us.
To develop a wildlife-friendly habitat in one’s backyard,
there are four basic resources to consider: food, water, cover
and space. You don’t have to have a huge yard to make it more
inviting to the wild creatures of the world. A well-stocked
bird feeder alone can attract a wide range of feathered wonders.
Even in a small yard there are a number of plants that can
be grown to entice your winged friends. Birds are particularly
partial to the seeds of sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, Echinacea,
and the fruit of elderberries, holly and dogwood trees. Butterflies
can be lured by the nectar of butterfly weed, Queen Anne’s
lace, daisies, dill, lavender, primrose, sedum, verbena and
other flowering plants and bushes. Including plants that provide
a succession of blooms and seeds throughout the growing season
will keep the winged ones coming back.
Providing water can be done with a shallow bowl or birdbath.
I have a plastic bowl sitting beneath the faucet I use to
water the gardens. It catches the small drips of water that
drop when the faucet is on. The bowl is a favorite bathing
spot for one of the blue jays that frequents the yard. I also
have a ceramic saucer from a large flowerpot that I keep filled
in another part of the garden that is favored by smaller birds
and butterflies. Cover is one of the most important resources
for backyard wildlife. Bushes, trees and vines provide perches,
escape routes, hiding places, nesting sites and shade for
wild visitors. Tangles of vines and bushes may not look good,
but they provide excellent shelter. The bushes, trees and
vines that outline my yard provide varying heights and layers
of protection. In one corner of my yard I also keep a brush
pile of bush branches, tree limbs and leaves that also serves
as a good wildlife hiding spot.
Space is a factor that generally has the most effect on who
shows up in urban backyard habitats. Many species of creatures
have territorial needs that are far larger than the dimensions
and terrain of one’s yard, reducing the likelihood that they
will take up residence or drop by for a visit. For some, your
yard might just be a small part of a much larger territory
that crosscuts a number of local yards. For more details and
information on how to attract wild things to your yard, check
out the National Wildlife Federation’s Guide to Gardening
for Wildlife by Craig Tufts and Peter Loewer at you local
library. For an excellent Web site on developing wildlife
habitat, visit the Windstar Wildlife Institute at www.Windstar.org.