Getting Wild With Your Habitat

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Natural Neighbors: 9 Toad-ally Awesome Ways
to Welcome Wildlife Into Your Backyard Sanctuary
by Mickey Z.
Part of living an eco-life involves a connection to our less, uh, civilized past and discovering the beauty right under our noses--but Bobbie the Eastern American Toad gives a whole new meaning to "girl next door."
This charismatic amphibian who suddenly appeared in the backyard of Karen and Julie--two Nyack, NY residents with a soft spot for all things furry, feathered, and fun--was originally named BOB (for "Big Ol' Bugger").
Then Karen did some homework and discovered her pal Bob was really a Bobbie. It's a truly symbiotic relationship. Bobbie does what she does best--a single toad can eat more than three thousand insects per season--while Karen and Julie have put up a toad-ally awesome frog blog to encourage others to explore and appreciate their natural surroundings.

The Ballad of Bobbie, of course, is nothing new. Nature-friendly humans everywhere are working hard to make their yards hospitable to mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and more. So, once you've greened your parcel of land by stopping yard run-off and being a diligent grasscycler, it just may be time to invite some new friends over to enjoy the creature comforts.
[For complete article references, please see source at Planet Green here.]
9 Toad-ally Awesome Ways to Welcome Wildlife Into Your Backyard Sanctuary

1. Plant Native Flora

It should be a given that native plants provide much of what native wildlife requires to survive and thrive. Key word: should. The National Wildlife Federation--a backyard sanctuary certifying body-- explains: "Natives are well adapted to survive in a particular geographic area according to the climate, soils, rainfall, and availability of pollinators and seed dispersers. And because they are indigenous to a specific region, native plants usually require little maintenance and are welcomed by wildlife, serving an important role in the local ecosystem." To find out which plants are native to your region, consult a native plants guide.

2. Attracting Birds

The first step to attracting birds (and all wildlife) is this: do not use pesticides. After that, Josh Peterson suggests plenty of shrubs, hedges, and trees (native, of course). "The evergreen trees make a great year-round home for birds, especially those that have berries and seed-producing cones," he writes. "You'll also want to grow deciduous trees that have berries, fruits, or other possible bird eats." A safe, off-ground water source is also crucial and here's a tip from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS): "Dead trees provide homes to more than 400 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians ... Consider leaving standing dead and dying trees in your yard unless they pose a human safety or property hazard, and use old logs and stumps in gardens and landscaping."

3. Feeding Birds

There's one part of attracting birds not covered in entry #2: feeding them. More from the NRCS: "Many species of birds can be attracted by a variety of feed in different styles of feeders. There are many styles of bird feeders available, from window-mounted feeders to those that hang from branches and stands. Many birds will readily eat right off the ground. Bird feed comes in a variety of choices; however, sunflower seeds appeal to many birds, as well as small mammals. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees are especially attracted to suet. Citrus fruit, chopped apples and bananas, and raisins will be eaten by numerous species, including robins, titmouse, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds." The DIY crowd will love making pine cone bird feeders or reusing old plastic bottles for the same purpose. And don't forget to feed your feathered friends in the winter, too.

4. Butterflies

First step: find out which butterflies are native to your area. Next, be hospitable to their needs. Since adult butterflies feed on flower nectar, you may want to consider plants like asters, azalea, bee balm, blueberry, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, coneflower, goldenrod, Impatiens, Joe-Pye weed, lilac, marigolds, verbena and yarrow. Four other factors to consider when attracting butterflies: climate, shelter, water, and hibernation.

5. Bees

Besides the obvious choices of eschewing pesticides and making certain your yard features native plants, there are a few other steps that may attract bees:

    * Plan a steady succession of blooms throughout the growing season, from spring to fall and beyond in warmer climates.

    * Plant flowers in clusters of the same type and color to create larger targets that bees can find easily.

    * Leave areas of soil mulch-free as habitat for ground-nesting bees. Install bee nesting blocks made with tunnels to attract solitary bees such as blueberry bees and orchard mason bees.

    * Build a bee house.

6. Reptiles and Amphibian
To save a toad like Bobbie in your life, the NRCS has the scoop: "Shelter for reptiles and amphibians is easy to provide. Several rocks piled in a sunny spot will provide basking sites. Consider planting shade-tolerant groundcovers under trees and leaving a thick layer of leaves to provide cool shelter. Stumps, logs, and rock piles in a shady spot can be valuable."

7. Bats

No matter what Bela Lugosi means to you, bats are a friendly addition to your burgeoning Noah's Ark and they'll provide a natural form of insect control, too. For example, a Little Brown Bat--one of the most common bats in North America--weighs about half an ounce but eats up to 1,200 mosquitoes per night, at a rate of up to 600 mosquitoes per hour. With so many forests being cleared, the best choice may be to build yourself a bat house.

Note: Besides bats, other mammals--like squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, skunks, woodchucks, mice, dogs, house cats, deer, and even bears--are sometimes not as widely welcomed. Again, the NRCS provides helpful info.

8. Take Lots of Photos

Not only will you be able to compile your own backyard wildlife slideshow, your photos could also help the Encyclopedia of Life track invasive species.

9. Certify Your Yard as a NWF Sanctuary

By demonstrating that you've supplied food and water sources, places for cover and raising young, and engaged in sustainable gardening, you might be able to have your wildlife garden certified by the National Wildlife Federation. The animals in your life will certainly applaud.

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