Meandering Along the River’s Edge
~by Virginia Rhys Anson, OFS
August 31, 2014: It’s Migration Time…
“Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
Especially Sir Brother Sun…
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.”
(Canticle of Brother Sun~ St. Francis of Assisi)
Hawks perch atop telephone poles, deer dine at neighborhood bird feeders, rabbits eat the leaves of my toddler hostas, bats take up residence inside attics. Wildlife and nature have done a remarkable job adapting to human encroachment on their homes. But even though, to some extent, nature has been able to adapt and adjust, her creatures still need access to the homes and ecosystems that they have lost.
To their rescue, a most unlikely savior–the human being. One of the most beneficial gifts that we can give to our wildlife brethren is a refuge for them in our yards. Wildlife requires just a few basic elements in order to survive—water, food and shelter.
Whether a blistering summer’s morn or a frigid winter’s eve, rabbits, squirrels, and birds will welcome a riparian oasis. Fortunately, it is quite easy to provide such a retreat.
A birdbaths creates a makeshift, yet decorative, swimming and watering hole. Birds and squirrels and dragonflies and bees readily substitute it for natural waterways. Robin sips a bit and then splashes gleefully. Squirrel balances on its rim to enjoy a swig before scurrying to collect acorns for its winter stash. Rabbit—well—she may be adept at jumping, but a pole vaulter she is not. Bunny family appreciates a shallow container of water at ground level. Better yet, a pond, which will also provide habitat for amphibians, like frogs, to lay their eggs.
Partaking of some mid-afternoon refreshment, one will likely find Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, a delightfully intriguing pair. Mr. assumes the role of sentinel while Mrs. enjoys a bit of libation at the birdbath. Then they swap roles. But despite guard duty, this is a docile illusion as the pair is vulnerable to predation.
And the most familiar neighborhood predator? The domestic cat. Therefore, the birdbath retreat should be placed fairly near a tree or bush, thus allowing birds to monitor the area and escape any threat.
Whether a birdbath or a pond, a clean, ample, and safe supply of water is the most important habitat ingredient that we can provide for wildlife.
Our yards attract a variety of animals and insects. Some inhabit our yards throughout the year, while others simply migrate through. Naturally, they all welcome a free meal. Native vegetation–trees, shrubs, grasses, berry and nut bearing plants, and nectar flowers–is the healthiest option for wildlife and the ecosystem. However, it’s acceptable to supplement their diets with purchased or homemade treats.
Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, are a delight for the eyes as they flutter from flower to flower, assisting in plant reproduction. Pollinators particularly like such flowers as milkweed, coneflowers, butterfly weed, and sunflowers.
Birds are likely the most common inhabitants and migrating visitors to our yards. During warmer months, it is best for them and the environment if they scavenge for their own food. Given appropriate ecosystems, wildlife thrives naturally if it remains wild and does not become too dependent upon humans—with the added bonus that insects and animals keep their ecosystems healthy. However, since many of their habitats are disappearing, we can provide supplemental vegetation for their scavenging pleasure. Native trees and nut and fruit bearing plants provide birds with a diet that is most nutritious for them. To assist you with finding the perfect native treats, plants that are indigenous to your specific part of our country can be found on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center website at www.wildflower.org.
Migratory birds and insects require increased sustenance so that they can bulk up for their long flights. Do you know that hummingbirds can migrate 2,000 miles? Wow. They can’t trek that distance without refueling stops along their way—our yards.
Winter and migration seasons can, however, be challenging for our winged brethren, just as they are for us. A backyard refueling center sustains them for the challenging months ahead. Watching our aviary guests—and the occasional squirrel thief— feast at the bird feeder brings a touch of whimsy and solace to a bleak winter day. Offering a mix of seeds, such as sunflower seeds, millet, and thistle, will attract a wider variety.
From groundcover to tall trees, evergreen plants give creatures year round shelter and fairly secure hiding spots. Likewise, birds and squirrels wander quite happily in and out and around the branches of leafless deciduous trees and bushes.
Lizard naps ‘neath boulder’s shade, as horned toad sits camouflaged near a sandy dune. Almost any foliage or natural feature can offer a protective home. Rabbits, chipmunks, and wooly worms hide easily in native grasses, hollow logs, and stone walls. Frogs, turtles, and dragonflies seek a harbor in or near water. Butterflies, bees, and lady bugs hang out comfortably among flowers in a garden—preferably native flowers.
A seldom considered hide-a-way, probably because it doesn’t fit the esthetics of a well-manicured yard, is a brush shelter. Twigs and branches that are raked in the fall or retrieved after a storm can be piled in an out-of-the-way, partly sunny area of the yard—largest branches at the base descending in size to the smallest twigs on its roof. Smaller creatures like to make this their home.
Nature’s creatures, being as adaptable as they are, find homes in a wide variety of places. Providing cover allows the prey to watch for danger while eating and then rush to safety if a predator is spotted.
“Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
Which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
Who sustains and governs us,
And who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
~St. Francis of Assisi~
For more ideas on creating space for nature, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s website: www.nwf.org. You can also find out how to register your yard as a backyard habitat.
Virginia Anson grew up in the shadows of Sandia Crest in New Mexico. Family camping trips may have sparked her passion for nature. She holds an A.S. in Electronics Technology, a B.A. in Writing, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a certificate in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. Her book, Mother Earth’s Caretakers, targets middle school youngsters and is published as an e-book for Kindle. Virginia is a Vietnam Era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her volunteer endeavors see her as a lector, Eucharistic minister, and sacristan in her parish and as a habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation. She especially cherishes her life in the Secular Franciscan Order, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.
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