October 2017: Caring for Wildlife in Autumn

~by Virginia Rhys-Anson, OFS

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)

St. Francis of Assisi, a champion of God’s Word and of the sanctity of nature. A companion to the wolf of Gubbio and preacher to the birds.

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 only four basic elements in order to survive—water, food, shelter, and a place to bear and raise their young.


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 bird baths 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. Cats, being descended from the wild cats of Asia and Africa, have no natural predator in America. However, their natural prey is the bird. Cats kill millions of song birds each year, which interferes with ecosystems and reduces the avian minstrels that we can enjoy. Therefore, the birdbath retreat should be placed fairly near a tree or bush, thus allowing birds to monitor the area and escape any threat. This next caution may be a tad difficult for some to hear. For the preservation of our winged visitors, and with the possible exception of the country homestead, pet cats should not be allowed to run freely throughout the neighborhood.

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.


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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