Category Archives: Backyard Wildlife

Create Your Own Backyard Bird Sanctuary

Image Complements of ren_041 at stock.schng

Transforming your backyard into a bird haven is a dream of many.  That dream can easily be made a reality by learning the requirements of your feathered friends.  Birds, like humans, have basic needs, which include:  a good source for food, water and shelter.  These needs become scarcer when the climate becomes cold in northern regions.  It increases the importance for maintaining the basic needs all year round.  Here are a few suggestions from the National Audubon Society:

The Basics

Food

Birds will flock to the food that suits them.  To attract a variety of birds, consider these treats help to overwintering:

  • Thistle or Nyjer seed- Attracts chickadees and finches, including goldfinches.  Do not confuse this with the prickly thistle, a pink-flowered weed used by goldfinches to line their nests.
  • Suet Cakes and Bird Pudding Cakes – Attracts insect eating birds, like: nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and others.  Place the suet in specific feeders at least five feet from the ground to keep away from dogs.  This is a cool weather treat as the hot weather can turn it rancid.
  • Nut and Fruit Blend- Attracts cardinals, titmice, woodpeckers, and many more.  Place this treat in a tube-shaped, metal mesh feeder.
  • Sunflower Seed- has several well known varieties.  Striped sunflower seeds are enjoyed by many large-beaked birds.  Black-oil seed is enjoyed by small feeder birds.
  • Millet- is preferred by many small-beaked ground-feeding birds including: quail, doves, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds.
  • Medium Cracked Corn – is popular with the same ground feeding birds that enjoy millet.  Feed on feeding tables off of the ground, as it tends to absorb moisture and will rot rather quickly.
  • Milo, Wheat, Oats – attracts pheasants, quail and doves.  These products are frequently mixed into low-priced birdseed blends.

Water

Clean, fresh water is an important aspect in controlling the spread of disease among birds.  It is recommended to replace water daily in birdbaths.

Shelter

  • Avoid using pesticides on lawns and gardens
  • Reduce the amount of lawn surrounding your home by planting native trees and shrubs, which will provide food for the insects birds eat.
  • Pile up brush and fallen branches to create shelter for birds.
  • Rake leaves so they are under the shrubs to provide habitat for insects, a necessary food for chicks and adults.
  • Put up birdhouses for more permanent shelter.
  • Locate feeders within 3 feet of windows, or better yet, more than 30 feet away, so birds taking off from feeders are less likely to mistake reflections for open sky.
  • Keep cats indoors, where they and the birds are safer.

 

References:

http://birds.audubon.org/bird-feeding-basics

http://birds.audubon.org/selecting-seeds

Wildlife Nest Boxes

If you are interested in attracting certain wildlife species to your property, the addition of nesting boxes can encourage certain species to take up residence to fulfill several of their basic needs-nesting and shelter.  Whether you plan to construct your own nest boxes or buy them, there are several important factors will help assure for a successful happy nester.

Each wildlife species has specific needs pertaining to their nesting box internal cavity size, as well as, the entrance hole size into that nesting box.  These dimensions will help determine what species can inhabit the box and which ones are excluded.

In addition to nesting dimensions, it’s equally as important to install the nesting box at the correct height and location most suited for your target species.

Below is a list of common wildlife species found in the Midwest region of the United States.

 

Happy Nesting to you and your friends!

References for this article:

http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-246-W.pdf

http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/fnr/wildlife/PDFfiles/NCR338.pdf

Controlling Algae Growth in a Pond

An established pond will most likely experience algae growth at some point. Moderate amounts of some forms of algae are actually healthy for the overall pond ecosystem, but maintaining control over that amount is important. Excessive algae can rob your pond of oxygen, causing fish illness or worse, fish death.

Algae are simple structured plants that have no root systems, leaves or any of the other similar characteristics seen in higher plant species. The two most common types of algae are planktonic algae and filamentous algae.

Planktonic algae can be identified by green, blue-green, yellow-green or even red colored water, also known as a bloom.  Blooms can encompass the entire surface of a pond and resemble a pea soup consistency if left untreated.

Filamentous algae initially form around the perimeter and the bottom of the ponds in the spring in a mat-like fashion and take on the characteristic of being stringy. It’s common to see this type of algae on rocks and even waterfalls, making these surfaces slippery. These algae provide no real benefit to a pond’s ecosystem.

Algae thrive off of:

  • Excessive sunlight
  • Low oxygen-high carbon dioxide levels
  • Excessive nutrients

Excessive Sunlight

Excessive sunlight helps to fuel the photosynthesis process, which also relies on carbon dioxide, and water.

Long Term Solutions: The main goal here is to allow less sunlight to enter the pond. One natural way to achieve this is to add shade bearing plants, such as water lilies, to your pond. These plants can easily cover a large percentage of the water surface and will also offer a natural protection from predators for your fish, as well as, provide a great spawning environment for your fish.  Plants also naturally compete with algae for nutrient requirements.  So, plants are a win-win situation for your pond.

Another option is to add shade dye to your pond. This eliminates how much sun can penetrate the water, inhibiting the photosynthesis process.

Excessive Carbon Dioxide

Excessive carbon dioxide fuels the photosynthesis process.

Long Term Solutions: Increase oxygen levels by providing aeration and filtration. Air diffusers and waterfalls are some examples of ways to infuse oxygen into the pond. It’s also important to remove decaying plant life, as this robs oxygen levels.

Proper mechanical and biological filtration can be achieved through the use of skimmers, filter media, UV lighting and beneficial bacteria; just to name a few.  Beneficial bacteria are a topic all by themselves.  To understand the importance of beneficial bacteria, a great reference article, “Your Pond’s Nitrogen Cycle” is here for your reading.

Excessive Nutrients

Excessive nutrients that help algae to thrive consist of nitrogen and phosphorus. Several sources for these nutrients are local phosphorus-rich fertilized areas, such as treated farm fields or yards, that wash into the pond. Other sources include nitrogen found in excessive uneaten fish food, decaying vegetation and fish waste.

Long Term Solutions: Eliminating or maintaining these nutrient sources properly will help alleviate that part of the problem. Clean all decaying vegetation from the water and only feed fish the required amount of food as recommended by the food manufacturer.

Please Note: If a quick fix solution is needed to control algae, there are algaecide products available. Be aware that after treating your pond with these products, the decaying of the algae will result in additional oxygen loss due to the decomposition process. This can lead to fish kill. Always follow all instructions on any products you use.

 

My Pond Mistake

Well, I made a mistake last fall.  You know, the kind of mistake that is the result of saying, “Ehh, I’ll worry about it later.”   My procrastination, or should I say mistake, caused me a lot more work this spring because this pond is located directly under a huge oak tree.  To say I had a lot of leaves in the pond was an understatement.  Had I taken the time to buy a net to place over the pond last fall, I could’ve prevented a lot of work for myself. 

All winter long, the leaves sat in the pond.  The resulting smell alone from the decaying leaves, worms and the newly established algae was enough to knock you down from a standing position.  I didn’t house any fish in the pond which is why my negligence for this situation happened.  If I had fish in the pond, I would’ve taken the time to clean it.  I do value their little lives. 

What’s the moral to this story?  Maybe this will motivate all of you to not procrastinate like I did.  But in the meantime, if you’re faced with this same situation, here’s some food for thought:

  1. Skim out as many leaves as you can with a net.  I actually purchased a pool net from a local hardware store.  This made the job a lot easier. 
  2. I then proceeded to drain the pond with a pump.  I actually don’t have a sump pump so I used the actual pond pump and just attached an old hose to the top of the outlet.  It’s not the best scenario, but the pump is strong enough to pump out the water at a decent rate. 
  3. Clean/replace your filters and proceed to refill your pond.  It’s wise to check and clean your filter more periodically than normal because of the extra contaminates in the pond.  Don’t forget to add any supplemental watering treatments to your water before are adding fish to your pond.

And by the way, I don’t plan do that again this fall!  Because, I do plan to add fish to the pond this season.  Hopefully I will have some beautiful pictures of fish to show you throughout the year.  Happy spring cleaning to all of you!

Attracting Hummingbirds

These tiny creatures, most of them weighing in around 3 grams, bring huge joy to many of us in the summer.  If you’re like me, then you want to continue to attract these creatures.  To accomplish this, you should not only provide them an ample food source but also you should consider their shelter and nesting needs as well.

Food sources are very important to hummingbirds.  With a high metabolism, the ability to flap their wings up to 53 times per second and their flight speed of 27 mph are all reasons why they eat their body weight in nectar daily and can eat up to 2,000 insects a day.  That’s quite an appetite!  So, let’s look at a few ways to assure they can obtain their two main food sources:

Two Food Sources:


  1. Nectar

Hummingbirds have two main sources for receiving their nectar nourishment: through flowers and nectar feeders.

Flowers-Planting native flowers, shrubs and vines that are colored orange, pink or red with tubular flowers are most popular as a nectar source.  Plant for constant blooming all season as this will give an uninterrupted nectar source for the hummingbirds.

Nectar Feeders– Proper care of nectar feeders is needed to assure for a healthy nectar source for the hummingbirds.  Be prepared to clean the feeder every 2-3 days by discarding old nectar and disassembling the feeder.  Scrub with hot water and a bottle brush to remove deadly fungus.  Do not use honey in the feeder as this creates a deadly virus for hummingbirds.  You can buy nectar just about anywhere you purchase your feeder.  You can also make your own sugar water solution.  The National Audubon Society recommends a recipe of boiling a mixture of 1 part sugar with 3 parts water.  Microwave boiling isn’t recommended because it molecularly alters the nutritional value.  Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.  Adding red food coloring is not recommended.

Location is important for the nectar feeders.  They should be placed in a shady, open area to prevent the premature spoiling of the nectar and ease of access for our feathered friends.

       2.    Insects

Providing a natural environment for insects to congregate is way of assuring a food source for the hummingbirds.  In a natural setting, weed patches are native habitat for insects.  Obviously if you live in a subdivision or other areas where this is unacceptable, consider planting native plants that insects are attracted to, such as: purple coneflower and bee balm.  They are also visually appealing, and butterflies love them as well.   Trees that bear fruit are another way to attract insects.  It might be practical to hang a nectar feeder from this fruit tree to further increase your chances of attracting more hummingbirds.

Nesting/Shelter

Hummingbirds build nests using soft-lined plants such as pussy willow flowers and the fluffy seeds from dandelion and thistle, among others.  They take shelter in trees.

Predators

Just like any other creature, hummingbirds have predators including: housecats, preying mantis, snakes, to name a few.

Other Considerations
  • Avoid Pesticides which can be ingested by the hummingbirds that eat infested insects.  Instead, encourage the hummingbirds to be your natural insect control.
  • Provide a water source for bathing.  Just like other birds, hummingbirds like to bathe in shallow water, a water mister or a small waterfall.
  • Know your region’s migratory dates for native hummingbirds.  This will allow you to provide your feathered friends a welcoming nectar source after their long journey.  There are several hummingbird migration maps available.  Here is a website that has several such maps for the ruby-throated and the rufous hummingbird.  These maps, which are updated weekly, give the dates of when the hummingbirds were spotted.

Attracting Butterflies

 

Attracting butterflies to your yard can be a very rewarding experience.  I enjoy seeing their presence in my yard every year.  I actually snapped the above picture in one of my gardens.  Understanding a butterfly’s transformational stages will help you to successfully attract these beautiful creatures.  In order to create an environment that will attract and encourage the reproduction of butterflies, you should include plants that serve both their food and shelter needs for all of the four stages of the butterfly’s life. 

For starters, adult butterflies need the proper native plants to lay their eggs upon, as this plant usually serves as the food source for the emerging caterpillar.   When the caterpillar is full grown, it will transition into a pupa or chrysalis.  This cocoon-like stage requires some sort of protection (depending on the species) in the form of a branch, leaves or even underground.  After emerging from this state, the adult butterfly will need nourishment in the form of nectar-providing native plants as it prepares for reproduction. 

Important Details:

  • Feeding the butterfly caterpillars-Since there are very few native species of plants that caterpillars will eat, it’s important to provide their preferred plants (host plants) for the particular species of caterpillar in your area.  Native plants are very important because the caterpillars in your area have evolved with these plants over many years.
  • Feeding the butterflies-These nectar-bearing plants should receive full sun as most butterflies feed in the sun.  Additionally, butterflies are most generally attracted to red, yellow, purple, orange and pink flowers.  Be sure to research the plants that are native to your area.
  • Plant for constant blooming all season- Plant your natives so that there is a continuous, uninterrupted nectar source for the butterflies.  This assures nourishment all season long.
  • Avoid insecticides- These poisons are specifically made to kill insects.
  • Proper shelter in the form of trees and bushes can satisfy several needs for the butterfly.  The first being is that it can provide a place for the pupa’s transitional stage.  This shelter can also serve as a safe place of rest for the butterfly at night, as they tend to sleep on the underside of leaves, in trees, etc.
  • Provide a sunny area with flat rocks for a resting spot.  Butterflies are cold-blooded insects and rely on their environment for their warming needs.
  • Provide water for their “puddling” needs- The activity of puddling is believed to be a way for butterflies to drink water, and it turn, receive nutrients from the water.  You can simulate this environment by having a damp sandy area located in the sun, or by placing a container filled with wet sand in the ground.  Remember to keep the sand moist.