The nurturing of birds, bees, bunnies, and other small creatures in our homes has brought joy throughout the centuries. Today, as civilization continues expanding into the wilderness, this hobby has become an obligation. Happily, restoring habitats for species that have lost their natural homes is beneficial to both humans and animals. Wild creatures thrive near human beings if given reliable food, fresh water, protection against predators, and shelter.
Consider the practical benefits for us. By reinforcing nature’s balance of ecology, we can eliminate chemical pesticides. Gardeners appreciate how certain birds, bats, and reptiles help control insects that would otherwise destroy plants. Frogs and toads are excellent exterminators of slugs, thus keeping ponds clean and slime-free.
Moreover, keeping company with wildlife is life enhancing. When listening to birdsongs or watching the antics of squirrels in our backyard, we are happily distracted and enchanted. Doctors have found that the presence of animals in nursing homes brings comfort, companionship, and laughter to shut-ins. If you have children, introduce them to the pleasure and education of observing the habits of animals.
Creating an Inviting Space
You don’t need a rustic cabin or rural farmhouse to enjoy animals. Any backyard, patio, or balcony can become a naturescape! With a few thoughtful additions, you can create an environment to attract, welcome, and protect wild creatures.
Certain trees, shrubs, and flowers will entice a multitude of birds, bees, and butterflies. The addition of logs and stones around your property will give lizards, bugs, and crawly creatures a hiding place. With a small pond or stream in your garden, you’ll be rewarded with toads, frogs, and fascinating water bugs.
Read on for a few suggestions for bringing some popular guests to your home:
A Home for Hummingbirds
Shimmering colours, dramatic and incessant motion, and thrumming, humming wings — these are just a few reasons to invite the tiny hummingbird to your window.
Due to their hyperactivity and high metabolism, these magical creatures need to eat constantly and are readily lured by bright (preferably red), nectar-producing flowers.
Plant columbines, honeysuckles, bee balm, morning glories, petunias, fuchsias, sage, delphiniums, hollyhocks and weigelas. Notice that many of these flowers are trumpet-shaped or tubular to accommodate hummingbirds with long bills.
Because hummingbirds prefer sunny, wind-protected areas, plant flowers near your house. You can even use the wall or a lattice for climbing plants that appeal to hummingbirds, such as scarlet runner beans, trumpet creepers and honeysuckles.
If your garden consists of a city terrace or balcony, hummingbirds will appreciate hanging baskets or window boxes of nasturtiums, fuchsias, and columbines. Remember, place your plants or feeders near a window or other station for unobtrusive bird-watching.
Here’s a bonus for the gardener: when hummingbirds sip nectar, they automatically help spread the flower’s pollen and fertilize future plants. Another bonus is that these same flowers will attract other nectar lovers, such as butterflies, moths and long-tongued bats.
Hummingbirds also appreciate "artificial" nectar. If your plants are between blooms or if you don’t have garden space, hang up a red feeder filled with either a commercial nectar-mix or a homemade brew of one part granulated sugar mixed with four parts hot, sterile water. After cooling, pour the mixture into the feeder. Do NOT add red dye to the solution, hummingbirds are attracted by the red on the hanger itself.
To ensure that bacteria won’t form, clean out the feeder once a week with a water and vinegar solution (never use soap). Your hummers will love you and keep coming back!
Watching small mammals from the safety of your own home is rewarding and incredibly entertaining. Imagine regular visits from cottontail bunnies, deer, opossums, raccoons, deer-mice, chipmunks, squirrels and even flying squirrels and bats!
Creating habitats for mammals takes particular care because their needs vary species by species; it is advisable to learn about their requirements (key word searches online and visits to the local library are helpful) and plan environments for one or two compatible creatures. However, a few general rules apply:
1. Tree-stumps, flat rocks, and other elevated feeding stations permit the best viewing. Doling out food a little at a time encourages creatures to return but not hang around and destroy plants. Moreover, excess food will only bring mice and rats; not a desirable outcome!
2. A free-standing birdbath or homemade pond will slake mammals’ thirst. Keep these fresh with regular scrubbing, and you’ll also see water bugs and bird visitors.
3. Plants that bear nuts, berries, seeds, and fruit will guarantee visits from mammals. Place a simple collar around the trunk to keep animals from climbing, you can guard fruit intended for your own table and let the creatures enjoy their "windfall" of goodies on the ground.
4. To see the secret life of nocturnal mammals, install an elevated light source. Also, look for flying squirrels and bats, they come out just after dusk in search of food or drink. By the way, garden lights will attract insects, which enrich the food supply for your furry guests.
5. Garden sheds, greenhouses, garages, crawl spaces, attics, and even hollow logs appeal to those mammals that seek a place to hibernate in winter or raise their offspring.
Just one word of caution, these cute mammals share our tastes for fruits, veggies, and even certain flowers. If you want bunny and deer visitors, you’ll either have to build a fence around your lettuce patch or learn to enjoy sharing your crop.
Frogs, Toads and Other Pond Dwellers
For sheer exuberance, nothing beats the sound of a frog chorus in spring! Whether you hear "ribbet, ribbet, ribbet" or cricket-like cheeping or the bullfrog’s deep "jug-a-rum," you’ll know at once that male frogs are sending out mating calls. As you approach the pond, however, this loud chorus will fall instantly silent. It’s fun to imitate the sound and try to get the frogs to resume their song.
Build it and they will come! By making a large, well-vegetated pond in your garden (favourites include: water-lilies, pondweeds, duckweed, cattails, wild celery, water plantain, bladderwort), you can provide a wonderful home to frogs, toads or salamanders.
However, gardening for frogs, toads and salamanders requires suitable dry spots, too. Although amphibians breed in ponds and like to splash now and then, they also like to hide in rock piles, tree stumps and rotting logs once their breeding season has past.
Amphibians need moist air, high humidity, and moderate temperatures. To attract them, place some decaying logs in shady area of your garden. Or build some "toad holes" partially filled with sand to give toads a burrowing place during the day.
The best time to see amphibians is at night. As nocturnal foragers, they come out at dusk to capture insects. Garden lights (no more than three feet high) to attract flying and terrestrial insects will also bring out frogs and toads. At night, toads gather under these lights the way humans stand in line to get into a four-star restaurant! And the more they eat, the more we humans benefit. Frogs, newts, and toads eat up not only the insects that can destroy our gardens but even the larvae of these bugs.
The wonders of wildlife can be at your doorstep, or at least, at your window. By becoming conscious of what our animal friends need, we can create a habitat just for them. Once they arrive, their young will imprint on their surroundings, and return generation after generation. Besides the obvious economic and ecological benefits, it is a privilege to be able to glimpse the secret and extraordinary lives of winged, woolly, and wild creatures.