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Written by Terry Spraque   
Jan 01, 2018 at 09:00 AM

BACKYARD NATURALIZATION - Attracting Birds and Other Wildlife Species to Your Premises

 As environmental awareness increases, it is only to be expected that some of this interest might be directed to our own backyards. There are concerns about what we are putting on our properties to create that "perfect lawn." Do we need a perfect lawn? What can we do make our properties, be they large or small, more attractive to wildlife? And how much is too much of a good thing? This page will attempt to address the increasing interest we are taking these days in naturalization our backyards, how to attract wildlife, how to manage what we have, and how to dissuade those species we don't want. It is all about doing things "naturally", with native species of plants, natural fertilizers, composting - all those things all of us should have started doing much earlier in our lives. Watch this page regularly for more tips on how you can enhance your property and make it more attractive to wildlife. 

 NOTE: "Mouse over" the photos for their identification
Manitoba Maple seeds - Traditionally, this was the seed of choice for evening grosbeaks. However, visiting pine grosbeaks are not beyond chomping down a few as they scour the countryside for available food. Photo by Terry SpragueThere is a lot to be said for the lowly Manitoba Maple. Sure – they have a penchant for dropping dead limbs and branches, and seem to attract hordes of Box Elder Bugs that find their way into your home every fall.
But there is a lot to be said too for the older homes and yards which often contain many fine established trees that we all too often neglect in our naturalization efforts around our premises. The keys of Manitoba maples for example are favorite foods of the Evening Grosbeak. When early settlers began planting these trees in the east, the Evening Grosbeak, formerly a bird of western distribution, followed a sort of baited highway and became established in the east, at least as a winter visitor. Not everyone plants these trees today as they tend to be messy and there are better trees out there on the market. However, where these trees occur, Evening Grosbeaks may be heard noisily crunching on the seeds when they decide to favour us with their presence some winters.
Ash trees are often overlooked too as a possible wildlife tree, and yet these trees sometimes produce copious amounts of seeds which are consumed by several species of birds. Weeping willow, although a little more seriously considered due to its lofty form and ornamental branches, are often scorned by homeowners as these trees are forever shedding branches and enormous quantities of leaves. In addition, the tree tends to harbour a lot of insects. But what better way to attract birds? The three weeping willows I so well remember as a child growing up on the family farm, and which were planted in our yard provided some of the most productive foliage in which to find migrating warblers. The emerging leaves harboured myriad insect larvae, eagerly feasted on by Black-and-White Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers and Yellow Warblers that were common to our yard during spring migration. Tree and Barn Swallows made regular passes over and around the trees and Baltimore Orioles were always singing from their high branches. The few hours spent once a year picking up the branches and raking the fallen leaves was a small price to pay in the spring and summer for the birds they hosted.
If you have red cedars on your property, you can expect a variety of birds including yellow-rumped warblers, evening grosbeaks, cedar waxwings and pine grosbeaks who feed on the berries of this tree. Photo by Terry SpragueEven the hedgerows of black currants and gooseberries and wild raspberries did their part in providing nesting sites for Yellow Warblers, Chipping Sparrows and the occasional pair of Song Sparrows. Wild grapes that climbed over the rail fence beside our property and wound their way up the nearby poplar trees provided sanctuary for the same birds. The poplars themselves always contained a nest or two of Warbling Vireos. The wild apple trees in a neglected orchard less than 100 feet from the house were homes to Eastern Kingbirds and robins; the hollow trunk of one such tree one year was eagerly accepted by a pair of Northern Flickers. Right beside the house, a Manitoba Maple sapling which I insisted my father should leave as there were no other trees in that particular section of the yard, hosted the very first nesting pair of Orchard Orioles I had ever seen in my life, in 1964.
It was some years before I realized the hidden potential of Red Cedars which grew on our farm like dandelions on the front lawn. They were always scorned by my father, so I didn`t bring up the subject very often. The branches provided nesting sites for a variety of birds including Mourning Doves, Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and once, a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes, before the species suffered its serious decline in numbers. When planted near the home, these trees brought along some of the same birds, and the fruiting berries these trees produced provided snacks for numerous other species.
Leave those established ashes and maples that have the good fortune to grow on your property. They are already busy attracting a plethora of wildlife. Photo by Terry Sprague Wildlife enthusiasts who are building a home on a new lot have the advantage of planning what shrubs and trees to plant from scratch, selecting only those that will lend themselves well to providing nesting sites, or supplying ample crops of seeds and berries.
For the most part though, all trees that occur naturally provide some attraction to various species of wildlife. If you have such trees or shrubs on your property, think twice before entertaining thoughts of removing them. Leaving them in their natural state, untouched, unpruned, and perhaps a bit better understood. They just might surprise you in what they will attract to your premises. They will blend in well with your other efforts in naturalizing your backyard.
I have a few handouts on enhancing your premises with native shrubs and trees. They are in a PDF format, so just e-mail your request and I will send them along to you.


 NOTE: "Mouse over" the photos for their identification

Don’t know where to go to obtain native trees and shrubs and wildflowers? Obviously you want to consult someone who is dedicated and knowledgeable in this field. Two great native plant nurseries in the local area:

1)  NATURAL THEMES, Frankford: Whether it’s gardening with native plants or attracting wildlife to your backyard, Natural Themes, is a good place to go for information and a selection of high quality, affordable plants. Owner and proprietor Beate (Bea) Heissler is well known in the Quinte area, having been involved as an educator at the H.R. Frink Centre, north of Belleville, for many years, Natural Themes offers a wide variety of woodland, meadow/prairie and wetland species including wildflowers, ferns, sedges, grasses, shrubs and vines as well as native deciduous and coniferous trees.  Natural Themes Website 

2) FULLER NATIVE AND RARE PLANTS, Belleville: Peter Fuller propagates and grows perennials, ferns, grasses and bulbs native within a 100-mile radius of the nursery. "We practise ethical seed collection and all plants are nursery propagated," says Peter Fuller. "We promote the conservation of wild plants and the maintenance of genetic diversity in plant populations. We provide advice and resources for using native plant material in home gardens." Fuller Native and Rare Plants website


Last Updated ( Jan 03, 2018 at 02:12 PM )
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February 24, 2018 2:54 am