A wildlife-friendly garden

Monday, January 07, 2008
Downy woodpecker at the suet feeder

Though the garden is at rest these days, my backyard brims with activity. Here's the typical scene: A flock of house sparrows assaults the bird feeder. Two squirrels guard the base of the tree and gorge themselves on fallen seeds. Three more squirrels chase one another through the tree, down the fence, onto the roof. The nuthatches and woodpeckers -- downies and red-bellies -- jockey for a place at the suet feeder. Carolina Wren, tail turned high, lines up for a bite, too. Mourning doves, sometimes as many as 15, amble across the yard, oblivious to the squirrels' antics. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal announce their stately presence with their characteristic "chip, chip." Dainty chickadees, "chick-a-dee-dee-dee." Then Cooper's Hawk occasionally swoops down and startles everything into hiding. Except, of course, for the squirrels. The Squirrels. Who Just. Keep. Eating.

To say I have a wildlife-friendly yard is an understatement. Sometimes it's a veritable zoo out there. It's amazing how many critters will show up at a simple tube of mixed birdseed and a slab of rendered pork fat. It's a boosted chance at winter survival for the birds, and precious moments of simple entertainment for me.

In the spring, I plan to swap out the seed and suet feeders and cater, instead, to the nectar-eating birds. The bird of all birds I hope to attract to my garden is a Baltimore Oriole -- the state bird of Maryland. They apparently like nectar, oranges, and grape jelly. A bit high maintenance, aren't they?

Beyond setting up bird feeding stations, though, I've been thinking about ways to organize my garden with specific plants that will attract wildlife naturally. I'd like to put in some cosmos, coreopsis, and bachelor's buttons for the goldfinches. Monarda for the hummingbirds. Zinnias for butterflies. Not only do I think about what I want to eat from the garden; I think about what all the critters like to eat, too. (And that works both ways, of course, as I'll have to devise ways to keep rabbits out of the lettuce patch.)

The National Wildlife Federation recently put out a series of tip sheets for maintaining a backyard wildlife habitat. Included are simple steps one can take to reduce their lawn, install bird feeders and nest boxes, attract butterflies, and more. Check out the one that's titled Neighborhood-friendly Wildlife Gardening. See the photo of the ladybug on the front? That's the work of none other than yours truly. It's a photo I took when I had my garden plot in the District -- a ladybug on larkspur flowers. I was thrilled to contribute the photo to a cause I support.


Blogger joey said...

How lucky to be wildlife living near you, Christa ... Great post! I've had great luck deterring rabbits by bordering with lots & lots of parsley ... perhaps the 'soporific' effect!

12:19 AM  
Blogger Rowena said...

Awww...I envy you your natural backyard zoo! This year the only fella to repeatedly visit our yard was a red-breasted robin, but I think the blasted neighbor uphill and his hunting dogs do keep a lot of wildlife at bay. Squirrels I have yet to see in these part of the woods...heaven forbid if they eat them here!

4:46 AM  
Blogger DianeSchuller.com said...

Wow, so many of us bloggers are on the same thought track right now. But I can't get over the 'weather' in your area. It looks like my summer in your yard right now :)

As I was just commenting at another blog, I too will be posting one of the many photos of our backyard birds including the nuthatches, woodpeckers, etc. It's wonderful to see like minded folks spread throughout North America.

Isn't it wonderful to attract and be able to watch these lovely wild creatures?

Diane at Sand to Glass

11:02 AM  
Blogger Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Winter bird watching is a real delight. This year, however, one of my favoriites, the Junco, is MIA. I hope they haven't permanently changed their winter habitat.

Yesterday I was thrilled to see a beautiful red fox in the yard. They're not really unusual here in the Denver metro area, but still fun to see.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Christa said...

Joey, I never heard about deterring rabbits with parsley. Lots of parsley is in order then!

Jocelyn, juncos are one of my favorite birds too. I see them infrequently here, and usually only on the coldest of days. Sad to think we won't see them much, if they're affected by warmer winter temps...

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in an urban area which isn't so bird friendly but I'm determined to make my garden into a haven for them. And not just them but I'll do anything to tempt in bumble bees as well - the gardener's friend!

6:28 AM  
Blogger Frankie said...

I would LOVE an oriole in the garden - no chance in the UK though.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post.
I have a bagillion bird feeders in my yard.
I do get orioles in the spring.
They are funny. They only drink nectar for one month, at least out here. They swarm my feeder from May 1st to May 31st and then they stop feeding on nectar.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Matron said...

Sounds like you have a wonderful selection of wild birds in your garden! I agree with you about those pesky squirrels. I sadly, had to stop feeding birds a few years ago because it encouraged squirrels to dig up all my plants in order to hide their nuts!

2:51 AM  
Blogger Whyite said...

How about that bird and critter zoo. I bet the birds and the like know where your house is from a hundred miles around!

And how lovely a song it must make :)

11:52 PM  
Blogger WashingtonGardener said...

Finally put my suet cakes up last weekend and the woodpeckers are back - didn;t take them long to find it. Now if only my camera could catch them in the act of feeding, then I could share the evidence wih you all.

1:03 PM  

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