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Backyard Habitat

Bird HouseThere is no better way to celebrate the spring than by creating a backyard wildlife habitat. Bringing nature a little closer to yourself.

The first step in creating a backyard habitat is to assess what you already have. Dying trees and piles of brushes, tall grasses and native plants: these are all things that could be the start of a pleasant setting. Nesting birds look for protection in shrubs and that dead tree could provide a cavity for others.

By finding out what birds and wildlife reside and pass through your region you could be creating a stop over for migrating animals in your yard.

The Basic Four Elements

The goal is to provide and produce the basic four elements for wildlife. They are: food, water, cover (protection against the elements and against predators), and a place to reproduce and raise their young.

In providing food, native selections are ideal. Enough to provide for the year round. Local trees and shrubs that will provide berries, nuts, and seeds. Birds, insects, and small animals will love buds, nectar and pollen, and catkins. These natural food sources can by all means be supplemented by bird feeders.

PondAll species will need water for bathing and drinking. Providing water in shallow dishes, a small pond, bird bath or water feature would be wonderful. Frogs, insects, fish and amphibians will seek protective cover in and around water areas.

Water should be provided the entire year. In the summer, bird baths should be cleaned regularly. And in the winter a heater can be used in the birdbath to keep it from freezing.

Stone walls, bushes, shrubs, rock piles, and evergreens are all things that will provide cover and protection. Be sure to include a range of heights as well as density.

Having safe places for the young to be nurtured is important. Dead or dying trees known as "snags" are very important. When natural snags are not present nesting boxes can be placed instead. And, the pond and water garden will provide the necessary breeding ground for toads and frogs.

Even window boxes and patio container plants can be created to support a habitat system.

The Challenge

A lot of changes have to be made. The National Wildlife has reported that over 25 million acres of land in the U.S. has been planted in residential lawn. 

It is totally amazing that these same lawns consume 30 - 60% of all our municipal water. More than 70 million pounds of chemical pesticides and 70 million tons of fertilizer are consumed by lawns each year. The lawn mower alone pollutes hydrocarbons 10-12 times that of a car..

Typical American lawn landscapes offer very little value to wildlife habitat. We need to get back to native planting. It can be done.

The Resources

To get local, contact your local-state chapter of the Wildlife Habitat.

It is exciting to know that schools are now actively involved in providing habitat programs to their students. And, over 1,000 schools have certified their sites.

It is nice to know that these school programs go beyond teaching the four basics of food, water, cover, and a place to raise the young.

There are entire communities that have had themselves certified as wildlife habitat communities. Whether you have a young or an old landscape or garden you may be half way there to developing the wildlife environment.

Certification is easy and painless. visit www.nwf.org for details or write to:

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program
National Wildlife Federation
8925 Leesburg Pike Vienna, Virginia 22184-0001

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