Creating a Garden for Wildlife
By Crystal Brown
Broadcast 6.15 & 6.18.2022
Cresting Evaro Hill on Highway 93, the view of the snow-capped peaks of the Mission Mountains is breathtaking. A few more miles north, the larch and pine trees open to the beautiful Jocko Valley. To me, nothing beats coming home to my own little piece of paradise, my Zen.
As I drive up the road to my home, I look to see what birds or wildlife I can spot. There might be a hawk or an owl swooping down to catch dinner, a coyote waiting to pounce on a field mouse, or even a skunk trotting up the road. No two days are alike.
Spending time in nature with its wild creatures has always been a way for me to rejuvenate my creativity, to fill my soul with happiness, tranquility, and relaxation. A way to let go of stress and worries, even for just a little bit. Recently I wondered how I could give back to the wildlife that makes itself at home around our five acres, to help it co-exist and thrive. Wanting to keep this little ecosystem as natural as possible, I came across the web page of the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden For Wildlife.
Happy dance! I have at least one in each category. A Garden for Wildlife needs five things: food, water, shelter, places to raise young, and sustainable practices.
Originally, I had just one bird feeder and knew the Black-capped Chickadees couldn’t wait until I put it out each morning. I added a second bird feeder and a suet feeder for winter feed. Word spread quickly and soon a pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves appeared, along with numerous House Sparrows and House Finches. A male Downy Woodpecker, with his black-and-white spotted wings and a red mark on the back of his head, began hanging out at the suet feeder. On the ground eating ants and then jack-hammering at trees in search of insects, Northern Flickers were getting their fill of food, too.
Having a birdbath benefits butterflies and birds. Placing stones in the water provides a place for the butterflies to land, keeping them from drowning. Three out of four seasons, water flows in the ditches and through the cottonwoods that grow along two sides of our square property. During the cold winter months, I provide a heated water source.
Cottonwoods and hawthorn trees in various stages of growth provide homes and shelter for birds, bats, deer, and even raccoons, while providing a safe environment for their young. Field mice and voles play hide-and-seek with the hawks, eagles, owls and other predators under the ground cover, rock, brush and log piles. Watching the young fawns run and buck through the tall grass adds such a delight to the day. Up high in a snag is a nest that Bald Eagles and Canada Geese trade off using. Hummingbirds nest in the hawthorn trees while the robins love our lone spruce tree. Future roosting boxes can be used as nesting boxes too.
In the spring, wildflowers, herbs, and grasses start to emerge from winter dormancy. However, not all are native species. Using chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers can be harmful to vegetation, wildlife, and humans. Some natural vegetation is safe for human consumption, so we use natural fertilizers when necessary. Composting is a good way to create natural fertilizer. As the black bears visit every spring and fall, having a bear-proof compost container is a must. Catching rainwater is also a plus when it comes to soil and water conservation.
As I take a sip of my dandelion tea, looking out at my wildlife-friendly yard, a gentle breeze kisses my cheek, reminding me how simple life can be. Giving back to nature has been such an uplifting experience. Whether you have a balcony, a small yard, or a back pasture, have you thought of creating a Garden for Wildlife? What are you waiting for?
Every week since 1991, Field Notes has inquired about Montana’s natural history. Field Notes are written by naturalists, students, and listeners about the puzzle-tree bark, eagle talons, woolly aphids, and giant puffballs of Western, Central and Southwestern Montana and aired weekly on Montana Public Radio.
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