May is Garden for Wildlife Month

Although my plan is to garden with wildlife in mind all year round, I was excited to find out that May is officially designated as “Garden for Wildlife” month.  This means a wealth of tips, tricks, and fresh ideas for making my backyard more wildlife friendly are filling my inbox through places like the Xerces Society and the National Wildlife Federation.  Just in time for spring to fully feel like it is here to stay and my gardening gloves to get dusted off!  The National Wildlife Federation has a great checklist for helping to attract birds to your backyard, mostly focused on ways you can offer the 4 basics (food, water, shelter, and places to raise young).

My current list of wildlife-friendly projects includes:

  • installing a second multi-hook bird feeding station in my side yard
  • installing a native plant rain garden as part of my lawn regrading project
  • adding several hanging baskets full of hummingbird and pollinator attracting plants on my garage and other areas of the yard
  • planting several herbs in my garden that are specifically for the pollinators (in particular, borage)
  • making sure there are several areas of damp, bare ground in my yard to allow native bees to build nests

This year I’m trying to focus more on the pollinators (bees and butterflies) in my plantings, as I think that I’ve got the birds fairly comfortable with my current native beds and feeding stations.  Many people are starting to become aware (and concerned) about the drops in native bee populations.  I always seem to have a great variety and number of bees in my yard, so I’m trying to figure out how I can help make my yard even more appealing.  Although I know that several of my neighbors are annoyed by the Creeping Charlie and dandelions in my yard, I find that the bees seem to enjoy them.  Also, I’m not willing to use the herbicides that would be necessary to even try to get rid of these problem-children, so the neighbors will just have to suffer  🙂

Well, back to my dirt!

 

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Birds Need a Bathtub, Even in Winter

winter_cardinal_birdbath

So one of the four cornerstones of maintaining a backyard wildlife habitat is providing a source of water.  This can be fairly easy throughout the majority of the year, even in the wonderfully temperamental northern Midwest climate we find here in Wisconsin.  But at some point in the year (often much sooner than I would like), the weather decides that anything above 32 degrees Fahrenheit just isn’t going to be possible any more.  And so I (and my feathered friends) wake up to a solid chunk of ice where previously there was a refreshing pool for splashing and drinking.  This tends to get me some very disgruntled looks from my resident goldfinches when they arrive for their breakfast nyjer feed.

They may be tiny, but they travel in packs and I don’t want them mad at me so I saved up the funds and this year I invested in a ‘heated’ bird bath.  I splurged during my local Menards 11% rebate sale and picked up this model, which has the heater internally sealed into the birdbath itself.  You can get birdbath de-icers, which are electrical appliances of a sort that you place in your bird baths and they keep the water just above freezing.  The ones that I was seeing were, price-wise, around $15-25.  As none of my current birdbaths were a ‘safe for winter’ material as is, I would have had to purchase a new birdbath AND the de-icer, so I just decided to cut out the middle man and get the all-in-one unit.  Going forward, as I add birdbaths to my gardens I will make sure that I purchase Wisconsin winter-friendly materials so that the independent de-icers are an option.

There are lots of different models of birdbaths and de-icers out there, I’m by no means endorsing this particular model (it just happened to be on sale), especially since I just purchased it a few weeks ago.  I’ll keep an eye on it over the winter, and assuming that my birds continue to use it regularly and the ice chunks are kept to a minimum, I’m happy.  And so is my goldfinch flock, which means I can safely wander my backyard again.

My Backyard Almanac

I’ve never understood the attraction to a smooth, manicured lawn.  To me, wildflowers, knarly oak trees, spreading cedars, all of those ‘unkempt’ vagabonds of the rural landscape always held more appeal.  A sea of green grass, never more than a half inch tall, with not a single dandelion, milkweed, or even goldenrod to be seen just seems like a boring and time-consuming fight against the tide.  Needless to say, I’m not joining a home owners association any time soon…

Add to that the fact that pollinators are disappearing, Monarch butterflies are declining, and (it seems) people’s inability to identify even common wildlife anymore, and you have the genesis of my desire to create a wildlife haven in my moderately-size yard in Madison, Wisconsin.

The National Wildlife Federation says that there are 4 things that are needed for an area to be successful habitat for native wildlife.  Wildlife (birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, etc.) need:

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter/cover
  4. A place to raise their young

Since a total yard overhaul is outside of my ability and budget to enact in a single year, I’ve been adding a new native plant garden each year for the past 2 years (with a 3rd planned to be installed in May, 2016).  My ultimate goal is to have my ‘mowable’ lawn area decreased by 50% over the 10 years I estimate it will take me to install all of the beds I envision.  I am purchasing native plants (mostly herbaceous at the moment, but I plan to add shrubs and possibly some small trees in the future) and focusing on species that provide at least 1 of the items listed above.  This site is my chance to document this journey and share it with other interested people.  I hope to inspire you to take whatever space you have (whether its a large yard or a window flower box) and enjoy the fruits of giving nature a bit of a leg up.