When my workday has ended, and I have carefully put to bed my small spicy accomplices, I look forward to at least a light snack and a footrest in recognition of my achievement. It would be a shame if this did not happen. I am sorry to say, this is the case with many hardworking beings—nimble industrious laborers who endlessly whirl about finding food, making babies and cultivating crops only to return to, well, an empty snack bowl and an unfurnished apartment.
Small beings have the same basic needs as you and I—food, water, a place to live, and a healthy environment. Amphibians, birds, small mammals, and beneficial insects—many of these busy little creatures, neither destructive nor aggressive, are an important part of our ecosystem. However, due to fast-paced environmental change and habitat reduction, it has become increasingly more challenging for them.
It is easy to encourage these critters and to be good neighbors. Generally, larger areas with diverse vegetation have greater species diversity, but a well-laid-out modest backyard with a variety of food, cover and water can entice a wide assortment of wildlife. The relative location of food, water and cover is what creates usable wildlife habitat. Below are some simple steps to take.
- Do nothing. Allow half of your garden to remain unmanicured. Leave some wild, untamed areas in your backyard. Allow the weeds to grow up and the insects to move in.
- Go organic, or minimize pesticide use. Use compost, not chemicals.
- Reduce the size of your lawn. Instead, plant a wide variety of flowering native plants to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, ground beetles, rove beetles, lacewings and praying mantises. Choose long-blooming, nectar-rich flowers and plants that bloom at different times of the season.
- Feed them and they will come. Plant bushes and trees with edible fruit. Don’t snip dead flowers. The seeds within them provide essential food for many animals. Leave fallen trees or leaves in place whenever possible to allow birds to hunt for insects. Keep birdfeeders stocked with thistle, safflower and black oil sunflower seed. If you start feeding, don’t stop during the winter months.
- Landscape with features that appeal to you. A bed of vibrant flowers, a shady spot under a tree, a privacy hedge, colorful fall berries, and evergreen winter shrubs are pleasing to everybody, including backyard critters.
- Add a birdbath. Birds need a dependable supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. The best birdbath mimics nature—gently sloping, shallow, and shady at ground level. Change the water once a week.
- Provide nooks in the backyard with a variety of nesting material. Hang concentrated stashes in tree crevices, berry baskets, or mesh bags. Fallen leaves, unraked twigs, dry grass, straw, pet fur, sheep wool, feathers, bark strips, pine needles, small sticks and twigs, yarn, string, and thin strips of cloth all make excellent nest materials.
- If you have a birdhouse, add a roost box. Birds only nest during spring and summer. Overwintering birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers require large nesting cavities during winter months.
Be patient. Depending on your property size, it may take several years to see all the desired results. Make a plan now, and, come spring, put out a vacancy sign. Give vegetation time to become established, and the tenants will move in.
Soon, you will receive tiny handwritten messages regarding extra storage space, laundry and parking facilities; high-pitched calls about hooking up teeny home theater components and keeping microscopic exotic pets; and little notes about room service and spa treatments.