Thursday, June 23, 2011

Backyard Habitat

habitat sign posted on tree close to sidewalk

Some years ago I went through the process of registering my yard with the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.  I'm happy to say that since doing so, at least two other families in our subdivision have done the same.

The process is very easy -- and you don't have to have a "wild" or unconventional yard to qualify.  As a homeschooling family we made the process a family project, having the kids do the mapping and identifying the required features that we already had, and helping to make additional features (like special bird feeders and butterfly feeders).

The important features that your yard must have are food supply (berries, seeds, fruit, nectar for example), water supply (a "puddling" spot, a saucer of water, a bird bath), and cover for raising young (shrubbery, trees, bird houses, spots for toads or lizards, etc.).  In the application one lists and maps out the areas in one's yard that provide these three necessities for nurturing some kind of wildlife -- which could be birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, whatever.  These elements can be clustered in one area (like the backyard), or spread throughout your lot.
frog pond
In my own standard half acre suburban subdivision yard I have several zones, or "garden rooms" as they say in gardening shows and magazines, that each have a role in our backyard wildlife habitat.  I have a small frog pond, with self sustaining mosquito fish, frogs, dragonflies, snails, water striders, water spiders inhabiting it and providing a source of water for birds and other animals.  I also have a clay saucer of water in another part of the yard, serving as a bird bath or puddler, depending on how much water is in it.
one end of woodland path (to the left)
I have an area I call "the woodland path".  This is simply a small pine needle covered path that curves around a maple tree that is next to the driveway.   On one side of the path is the maple tree, some hostas, some lenten roses, dogbane, and maypops, along with a beauty berry bust.  On the other side of the path is another beauty berry, a deciduous azalea, a redbud that appeared a few years ago and a baby magnolia that has turned up.  On both sides of the path there are also red buckeye trees, providing the first nectar for the migrating hummingbirds.  When the buckeyes bloom I know it's time to put out the hummingbird feeders.  This area provides berries, nectar, and cover for raising young.  In a more conventionally landscaped yard a few hollies or other berrying shrubs and trees, along with some feeders, can serve the same purpose.
woodland phlox and self heal in my meadow in April
Between the woodland path and the sidewalk I have "the meadow".  In the spring the meadow blooms with native woodland phlox, spring beauties, self-hea, lyre leaf sage, and red clover, sustaining insect life and nectar for early butterflies.  After these plant set seed, this little 6 by 15 ft area is mowed and makes a nice "picnic" spot. In lieu of a "meadow" a bed or pots planted up with nectar producing annuals and perennials nectar seeking birds and butterflies.  A pot of zinnias (so easy for young children to plant and appreciate since they germinate and grow so fast!) will serve nicely.  Add some parsley or fennel and the swallowtails will come sip the zinnias nectar and lay eggs on the herbs, hatching into wonderful caterpillars which can be observed day to day.  Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed only, and gulf frittilaries lay eggs on passion vine.  Give these plants a place in your yard to ensure butterflies in the neighborhood.  They are as important, really more important, than the nectar plants.

Even an apartment front door or balcony can be made into a "backyard wildlife habitat" by planting up a pot or two of flowers chosen for their nectar or nurturing benefits, with a water source and some shrubbery to provide cover for raising young near by.

Add a couple of good insect, butterfly, and bird identification books, maybe a sketchbook or camera, and you have the beginnings of wonderful study of natural science.

Some of my favorite resources are National Wildlife Federation Backyard HabitatToad Cottages and Shooting Stars: Grandma's Bag of Tricks and Country Living Gardener A Blessing of Toads: A Gardener's Guide to Living with Nature by Sharon Lovejoy along with any of her other books, Outdoor Nature Hour blog by Harmony Fine Arts, Nature Journaling: Learning to Observe and Connect with the World Around You, Discover Nature in Winter (Discover Nature Series), among others.

This post is linked to Tuesday Garden Party


Sweet Bee Cottage said...

What a wonderful yard you have. Your pictures make me want to see more of it.

deborah said...

What a beautiful garden! It's so nice to be able to have the land to have a backyard habitat. My garden is not large enough for that however, my husband and I do have 285 acres that is registerd as a natural wildlife habitat. It's wonderful to see all of the wildlife there! Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I hope you stop by often!

Diana said...

Thanks, Deborah -- but I think my yard gives the impression of being bigger than it is, lol. It's just a standard subdivision lot (about a half acre), and we have good sized house that takes up a lot of it, along with a double garage and a long driveway that goes all the way to the rear. So in terms of usable gardening space, it's just a regular front yard and then the back yard, half of which is the vegetable garden and half completely shaded by a huge maple tree. The nice thing about habitat gardening is it can be a couple of pots of nectar flowers, a bird feeder, and a saucer of water. Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

This is soo cool. I did not know you could have your yard considered a natural habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. So glad you posted. Clarice

Meadowsweet Cottage said...

Garden rooms are the best! Much more interesting than a straight stretch of lawn and lots more fun if you're a gardener. Your little pond looks especially restful and I'm betting water seems fabulous with your heat. I know our little pond attracts me as much as it does the critters!

It was fun to hear about your coop--I knew I wasn't the only one repurposing old things!

Dee @ Start Dreaming said...

This is such an awesome homeschool project! Great job with getting the kids involved! I would love to have more land to romp around in and play too.