Care and Maintenance of a Backyard Certified Wildlife Habitat
A year ago, I applied with the National Wildlife Federation to make my back patio a Certified Wildlife Habitat. The three basic elements we needed to provide were: water, food, and a place for wildlife to raise their young. I learned that the Certified Wildlife Habitat is not a singular accomplishment. It requires continual care and upkeep, even in our small rowhouse patio.
Currently we have bird feeders, a bird bath which is very popular with the Robins, Grackles, and Mourning Doves, a mason bee house, and a pile of sticks and wood that many and varied insects call home.
The girls and I took part in the annual Christmas Audubon bird count. We stared at the feeder for 10 minutes at a time those weeks and kept a list of the birds we saw: Grey Catbirds, Cardinals, Cowbirds, House Sparrows, Goldfinches, Blue Jays, Doves, Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, House Finches, and Dark-Eyed Juncos.
I did some sprucing up already this Spring by building the mason bee house. And, wouldn’t you know it, within a matter of days, the bees found the holes and are industriously lining them with pollen from the neighborhood. I tried to take a photo unsuccessfully, but my neighbor Elin also witnessed their comings and goings in case you don’t believe me.
Last year, some House Wrens closely inspected the bird house designed just for them, but the house remained vacant, much to our disappointment.
So, this year, I cut up some scrap yarn and had Nadja and our neighbor Jacques stuff a suet feeder to overflowing with it.
We hung the feeder near the bird house in the hopes that this year’s young parents-to-be will find the bird house and the nearby “Home Depot” irresistible. (If you see a nest in the neighborhood lined with colorful yarn, it may have come from us.)
Nadja collected some more sticks for the wood pile.
While she was at it, she found some moss in the alley and we gently relocated it to our garden.
I did some repairs to the yellow ornamental gourd bird house, which took a beating in some of last year’s wind storms when (without birds inside) it was jettisoned over the fence.
Finally, I made a trip to the most remarkable plant nursery in Alexandria. It’s really a best kept secret: Nature By Design. Only open for part of the year — spring and summer months — the nursery is tucked back at the end of Calvert Street off of Rt. 1 near Potomac Yards.
It’s hard to miss because you have to park in the cul de sac and then veer off to the right to see a big gate leading to the side and backyard of a small colonial house. Over 99% of their plants are native to our area and the owners’ knowledge is extensive.
I asked for ideas for shade-loving, native plants that will attract bees and butterflies. They wrote out a list of about two dozen options. Now to decide.
Like I said, a backyard habitat is a living thing, a theme that gives the garden or yard a focus for future planning and decorating. It’s great fun to work on, with the kids especially.
And while we spruced up the area for wildlife, we decided on whim to create a “mud pie station.” Even after it started sprinkling, Nadja kept busy there, drawing water from the rain barrel, while I tidied up the patio a bit more.
For more information about how to certify your yard or patio, see the National Wildlife Federation guidelines.