In high school and college I volunteered as an outdoor school counselor, and led groups of sixth graders on nature hikes through our wonderful Oregon forests, I also spent my spring and summer weekends volunteering at the zoo and learning a lot about all the animals.
From my Christian viewpoint, I believe caring for our environment is very important, the beauty and nature that surrounds us is a blessing from God, and we need to be good stewards over this blessing. Remembering not to be wasteful, and making choices that are healthy for us and our future generations.
One really fun and wonderful way to make a positive impact on the nature around you is to make a backyard habitat, and garden in a way that is good for both you and the critters that live nearby. The National Wildlife Federation has a wonderful program that walks you through setting up your backyard as a certified backyard habitat. Just last month I got our backyard certified as a backyard habitat, this is my second backyard habitat, years ago, at our last home, I enjoyed setting one up there as well.
Our last home was just under two acres, and right next to a large forest, we had lots of wildlife- owls, bats, little weasels, all manner of woodland rodents, bunnies, deer, a huge variety of birds, amphibians, and insects and friendly garden snakes. We set up rock piles, brush piles, planted extra garden plants to share, and had water sources, and a butterfly garden.
When we first moved into to our new home with our tiny garden, I wasn't sure how many critters were living nearby, so I didn't focus on creating much habitat. Over the years though, I have noticed many different critters, and as I provided more food and water have seen a lot more.
We have a large family of gold finch that visit every year, and I always put out lots of Niger thistle and shelled sunflowers seeds for them. They come every year in the spring- you can read read about one of their visits in my post The Goldfinch are Back!
We have these tiny little green frogs living all through the garden, wonderful for natural pest control, and very cute.
We have a number of birds that visit our tiny garden, common birds like little sparrows and house finch, the occasional flicker, and robins, crows, hawks and swallows fly over head, chickadees, our gold finch, lots of red wing blackbirds visit, and bands of starling. We have also spotted flying over head a few varieties of water birds, the occasional owl, and the most rare and interesting bird to ever stop in our garden was a small variety of hawk, possibly a Cooper's Hawk, he was beautiful, and stayed for more than an hour, unfortunately it was because he was dining on one of our little sparrows or finch. :(
Last week we had a new visitor, and I was very happy to see him. Look who was hanging out near the blueberries, a very pretty lime green striped garter snake.
We had spotted him briefly along the fence a couple of times the week before, but this time he was all the way in the veggie garden. When the kids were little we watched Little Bear cartoons, one of our favorites, and Little Bear would call his garter snake friend No Feet, when the kids were little we had loads of garter snakes in our garden and like Little Bear, called them No Feet. Garter Snakes are a gardener's friend, eating many of the garden pests, so we are very happy to once again welcome our friend No Feet back to the garden, stay as long as you like, and bring your family! :)
For your backyard habitat you need to provide sources of food and water as well as cover and shelter. We have shrubbery for the birds to hide in while they wait their turn to dine at our bird feeder, we have shrubs that provide berries as well, like barberry and holly, we even leave a few blue berries for the birds. We provide different types of bird seed, the type best suited for our local birds, as well as suet cakes. We have a tiny hummingbird feeder that brings the occasional hummingbird. We put out bread for the starling who make their rounds through the neighborhood, the chickadees, finch and sparrow love it as well. For my birthday today the whole family helped out in the garden, and bought me new replacement bird feeders.
I like to fill this old bird bath with seeds, this feeding location is tucked in among the shrubbery to provide cover for the birds, and is nestled on top of plenty of ground cover, also an important aspect of a backyard habitat.
Gary, Sarah and Jospeh also built me a new bird house, we have a nice finch family currently living for its second year in the birdhouse my son built me for mother's day two years ago. We all love hearing the chirps of the babies. We are excited to see who will move into the new house.
Here Gary is working on my bird house and bee house, it was a nice day to bring the woodworking outdoors.
Here is the bird house that a family of house finch live in.
and here is our new bird house, wonder who will move in?
Another birthday gift today was a bee house. This type of bee house is for bees, like the mason bee, and other small lone pollinator type of bees and insects. Many different bees visit our lavender patch, and it is always good to encourage bees near the veggie patch. We will have fun seeing if any bees take up residence. I found the design through Pinterest, here is a link to the project at Sunset.com
To help protect the wildlife, we do not use unsafe herbicide or insecticide, for serious aphid problems we use insecticidal soap, and the rest of the time encourage lady bugs and other beneficial bugs. For our beautiful butterflies we provide host plant like parsley, as well as some of their favorite flowers, and next year hope to plant more of a butterfly garden.
For water we have a dripper attached to the bird bath, the dripper is attached to the hose and continually drips little drops of fresh water. All day long the birds and insects stop by for fresh water. If you want to increase the birds in your backyard this is probably one of the best things to add, the moving fresh water really attracts birds.
Our backyard habitat garden is always a work in progress, as we learn, we can add more plant varieties, and different food and shelter items, as well as learning environmental gardening practices.
As a family we have a lot of enjoyment in our little garden habitat, I would highly encourage everyone to check out the National Wildlife Federations website to learn more.
Do you have a backyard habitat? What interesting animal visitors do you have in your garden?