One of the pleasures that Vic and I enjoy at our home is feeding birds and providing a place where bees and butterflies are welcome. As wild areas shrink due to development, habitat for birds and other wildlife disappears. We do what we can in our yard to fill in the gaps in food and shelter that is available for them.
Our yard is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. The three main things that are required to register your backyard as a habitat are cover, water and food. All we had to do to get certified was document the steps that we had taken to provide these things for wildlife.
We created cover for birds by planting hedges, shrubs and fruit trees. We also have mature liquid amber and olive trees. Smaller birds use these to hide from predators.
Trees also provide birds with places to nest. Hummingbirds build their tiny nests in our liquid amber and avocado trees. Mature liquid amber trees also provide sturdy branches from which we hung a bluebird box. We bought the box from the Friends of Shipley Nature Center last summer. We saw a male bluebird checking it out several times, but we never saw a female in our yard. Maybe next year.
Water was probably the most fun thing for us to have provided. About 10 years ago, I dug out a depression in our front yard, lined it with thick plastic pond liner and river rock and filled it with water. I planted a number of plants in it, including water hyacinth, water iris, curly rush and taro, also known as elephant's ear. We keep mosquito fish in the pond so mosquitoes won't grow in it.
Not only is our pond pretty for us to look at, it provides a much-needed water source for insects, birds, raccoons and opossums. Jewel-toned dragonflies flit about the pond, lighting on the foliage over the water. Common yellowthroats often feed in the foliage in and around the pond, but our pond is way too small for them to nest there.
During the spring months, a pair of mallards stops by and stays for several weeks. It's really funny to see a pair of mallards in our tiny pond. It's about 5 feet across and 8 feet long, but the water plants are now so dense that the pond is mostly filled in.
In addition to the pond in front, I have a small water garden in back. It's about 3 feet in diameter and totally filled with water plants. The bees, wasps and dragonflies use it in summer, and I suspect that raccoons and opossums drink from it.
We have a recirculating water feature on our deck. To save electricity, we only turn it on when we're going to be using the deck. But when the water is splashing on the rocks, the hummingbirds, warblers and house wrens come flocking.
We also have three birdbaths that we try to keep filled. The birds generally ignore the birdbaths, or just use them for drinking. But sometimes when the sun is shining on the water, something clicks and we have lots of different species drop down for a quick bath.
Many of the plants in our yard were chosen for their ability to attract wildlife such as bees and butterflies. We look for plants that are drought tolerant and that provide food for some type of wildlife. We grow sunflowers for goldfinches, sages for hummingbirds and lantana for butterflies. Our asylum attracts hover flies, and Nemesia provides pollen for bees.
To feed birds during the winter, we have a number of seed and nectar feeders in both the front and back yards. I put mixed seed in tray feeders for sparrows and doves, sunflower seeds in tube feeders for house finches and thistle seed in a sock for goldfinches. When all the seed-eating birds are in the yard, they attract other birds such as phoebes, kingbirds and warblers. While those latter birds don't use the seed feeders, they see all the bird activity and come looking for insects.
I think birds know when it is going to rain, because we had a record number of bird species in our yard before the storm started Sunday. Birds like to stock up on food before a storm because it is difficult for them to feed in the rain.
We sporadically keep a monthly log of the birds that we see from our yard. I confess that some months go by without either of us noting a single bird. We just get busy with other things and neglect the bird list. Even given that sporadic attention, we've seen 34 bird species from our yard this year. Sunday, we logged in a whopping 20 species in one day, counting the Canada geese overhead, the crow in the street and the daily gull flyover.
Sunday's most handsome bird was a gorgeous male Townsend's warbler with his bold black and yellow striped face. Coming in a close second was a male common yellowthroat with his black mask over a yellow throat. But my favorite sight was the California towhee taking a bath along with some house finches. So much splashing.
I think the most important thing that we do for wildlife is maintain an organic yard and garden. We don't use insecticides, which means that our yard is safe for insects and the birds that eat them. OK, so it's not totally safe for insects. During the summer, we cheer on the black phoebes, hooded orioles and other birds that gather insects in our yard. I'm especially pleased when I see birds feeding on insects in my vegetable garden.
Take a look at your yard from the point of view of a bee, butterfly or bird. Is it an environment that is free of toxic chemicals? Is there a place to hide and raise young? Is there somewhere to get a drink? Is there something to eat? If you can answer yes to all of those questions, you can get your yard certified by the National Wildlife Federation. Visit http://www.nwf.org to learn more.
VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at LMurrayPhD@gmail.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun