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My Yard as Wildlife Habitat - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
My Yard as Wildlife Habitat
Today we visited the Douglas-Hart Nature Center.  The latest issue of their paper newsletter announced that they recently got registered as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  Browsing through that article, I was surprised to discover that my yard is currently qualified; I had thought I was missing the water feature, but more stuff actually counts than I thought would count.  I can't afford the registration fee, but I thought it would be fun to go through the list of features anyhow.


In order to qualify, a Certified Wildlife Habitat must provide the following features:

Food for Wildlife
Animals, birds, insects, and other wildlife need something to eat.  Native plants are preferred, but exotics are allowed.  Supplemental feeders also count. 

A CWH must have at least three of these:
Seeds from a plant • Berries • Nectar • Foliage/Twigs • Nuts • Fruits • Sap • Pollen • Suet • Bird Feeder • Squirrel Feeder • Hummingbird Feeder • Butterfly Feeder

I have seeds, berries, nectar, foliage/twigs, nuts, fruits, sap, and pollen.  The suet feeder, platform feeder, hopper feeder, and fly-through feeder are usually stocked during autumn/winter with suet, mixed bird seed, and sunflower seed.  I have a hummingbird feeder which I sometimes hang in summer, though it isn't up now.
Seeds: broomcorn, echinacea, sunflower.
Berries: black raspberries, blackberries, mulberries, wild strawberries, yellow raspberries.
Nectar: alyssum, black-eyed susan, clover, comfrey, crocus, daffodil, daylily, echinacea, firewheel, foxglove penstemon, frost aster, honeysuckle, hyacinth, iris, marigold, petunia, rose, tulip, yellow coneflower.
Foliage/twigs: contorted willow, dogwood, hackberry, pine, spruce, sycamore.
Nuts: black walnut, oak.
Fruits: apple, crabapple, pear, sour pie cherry.
Sap: maple, mulberry.
Pollen: basically most stuff under Berries, Nectar, and Fruits.
See "Lilacs and Honeysuckle" "Roses and Other Flowers" "Fieldhaven Fruit & Flower Report" and "Butterfly Meadow and More" for some examples.

Water for Wildlife
Critters need water but they don't all like the same kind.  Most birds prefer a shallow source.  Butterflies and other insects like mud.  Many mammals and amphibians enjoy a deeper area.  Ideally there should be both shallow and deep water, with a way to get out if critters fall in.  Still water needs something to deter (or eat) mosquito larvae and adults.

A CWH must have one of the following: Birdbath • Lake • Stream • Seasonal Pool • Ocean • Water Garden/Pond • River • Butterfly Puddling Area • Rain Garden • Spring

This is the one I thought I was missing.  I used to keep water gardens made of kiddie pools and plastic tubs, stocked with aquatic plants and goldfish, much enjoyed by the birds.  I haven't been able to afford that.  I have a birdbath, but nothing likes it, so I haven't bothered to put it out.  The hanging water dishes in winter were also a total failure.  What do the critters like?  They like the big puddles that form at the end of our driveway.  Birds drink, bathe, and obtain mud for nests.  Butterflies puddle there too.  It isn't a very safe place, due to occasional traffic, but it sure is popular.  I also have a rain garden.  It's tiny and does not collect standing water -- the point is to keep the sidewalk from flooding -- but it does have a nice bunch of flowers.  Apparently that counts.  I'm not sure whether "seasonal pool" would be covered here or not; there are several dips that hold water after a rain, but not for very long unless it keeps raining like it has this year.


Cover for Wildlife
This aspect concerns shelter from predators and inclement weather.  All kinds of live and dead plants are suitable.  Constructed wildlife houses also count.

A CWH must have at least two types of cover: Wooded Area • Bramble Patch • Ground Cover • Rock Pile or Wall • Cave • Roosting Box • Dense Shrubs or Thicket • Evergreens • Brush or Log Pile • Burrow • Meadow or Prairie • Water Garden or Pond

I have a wooded area, bramble patch, ground cover, rock wall, dense shrubs/thicket, evergreens, brush pile, log pile, burrows, the wildflower garden, and the prairie garden.
Wooded: forest area in streetside yard, woodland garden outside kitchen window, fruit orchard, and the side yard between the driveway and the prairie garden.  Those include both savanna (open grass under spaced trees) and woodland (closer trees with shrubs and undergrowth).  See my "Forest Layers" "Mapping My Garden to My Body" "Windloss" "Weathering Storms" and "Examining the Snag" posts for thoughts about backyard forest management.
Bramble patch: black raspberries along fence, yellow raspberry patch, blackberry patch, plus multiple volunteer patches of black raspberries.
Ground cover: vast assortment of native and exotic grasses, sedges, clovers, wild violets, mosses, plus a few low-growing herbs like sweet woodruff and thyme.
Rock wall: north edge of parking lot is edged with large stones; some flower gardens also have a stone border.
Dense shrubs/thicket: Midwinter Grove, wild cherry grove, pie cherry grove, several hedges and clumps of bushes.  Eh heh ... plus most of the yard when rain, mechanical failure, allergies, etc. make mowing impossible.
Evergreens: Midwinter Grove and a clump by the garage.
Brush pile: southeast corner, ritual meadow, and streetside forest.
Log pile: near garage, also the Bone Garden has a ring of logs.
Meadow/prairie: the wildflower garden and the prairie garden (aka butterfly meadow or cloud garden); see "The Butterfly Meadow" "More Grasses" "Additional Prairie Plants" for examples.

A Place to Raise Young
Critters need appropriate areas where they can court, mate, and raise offspring.  They also need suitable food source for their young, particularly insects which may only eat a few plant types.

A CWH must have at least two places for reproductive activities: Mature Trees • Meadow or Prairie • Nesting Box • Wetland • Cave • Host Plants for Caterpillars • Dead Trees or Snags • Dense Shrubs or a Thicket • Water Garden or Pond • Burrow

I have mature trees, meadow/prairie, host plants, dead trees/snags, dense shubs/thicket, and burrows.  There are a couple of birdhouses out but they're crummy ones.
We have a lot of big old trees here, some of which are coming down, as you can see in the forest discussion links above.  Birds nest heavily in the trees and bushes.  The prairie garden (including its herb patch) and wildflower garden are especially popular with butterflies and other insects; see "Hunting the Black Butterfly" "Caterpillars and Butterflies" "Flowers and Butterflies" and "Butterflies" for examples.  Also we have a family of skunks.  This stuff is important to me because I'm not really in a position to raise livestock, so all the animal roles in the ecosystem need to be filled by wildlife.


Sustainable Gardening Practices
This category includes all the Earth-friendly stuff you do.  It makes a habitat friendly for wildlife when you don't use toxic materials or use less of them.  There are natural ways to fertilize, control weeds and pests, etc. 

A CWH must use at least two sustainable gardening techniques:
Soil and Water Conservation:</strong> Riparian Buffer • Capture Rain Water from Roof • Xeriscape (water-wise landscaping) • Drip or Soaker Hose for Irrigation • Limit Water Use • Reduce Erosion (i.e. ground cover, terraces) • Use Mulch • Rain Garden
Controlling Exotic Species: Practice Integrated Pest Management • Remove Non-Native Plants and Animals • Use Native Plants • Reduce Lawn Areas
Organic Practices: Eliminate Chemical Pesticides • Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers • Compost

I'm doing xeriscape, limited water use, mulch, rain garden, integrated pest management, removal of some non-native plants, using native plants, lawn reduction, and compost.  I make very minimal use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
In particular, most plantings have to care for themselves in summer because it's too hot for me to work outside.  Watering anything means I have to carry a can.  I rarely have enough money or energy to spray pests, unless it's something egregious like poison ivy or Japanese beetles.  Mostly the bugs eat each other.  I wrote a whole post on how to make a compost pile.


So that's a look at Fieldhaven for the purpose of wildlife habitat.  We have a little over 2 acres, managed for mutual human/wildlife enjoyment.  Oh, and I focused primarily on plants that are already doing their thing; this leaves out a lot of stuff like the shellbark hickory, white walnut, rowan, Manchurian apricot, persimmon, etc. that aren't big enough to fruit yet.  But comparing the wildlife seen in my yard to the surrounding monocrop fields, this is a busy little corner of the biosphere.

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Comments
red_trillium From: red_trillium Date: July 24th, 2010 08:52 am (UTC) (Link)
It's cool that your yard could be a certified wildlife habitat!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 24th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I think so. I'm more concerned with practical usefulness, and this is a good measure of that. It would be nice to get the official recognition someday, though.
wyld_dandelyon From: wyld_dandelyon Date: July 24th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Are these your State rules, or national ones?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 24th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

They're from the National Wildlife Federation, so they should be national. The official program page is here:
http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Outdoor-Activities/Garden-for-Wildlife/Create-a-Habitat.aspx
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