Does Your Garden Welcome Local Wildlife?

By Marilyn Loser
2015 January 21

A frequent visitor to our yard this winter is a red-shafted flicker (Colaptes auratus).  We don’t put out bird food and I wonder what it is eating and where it spends the night. In fact, I’ve been surprised how many birds I’ve seen in our neighborhood this winter.  Maybe I’m noticing them because I’m around more this winter.

The flicker is a North America native of medium size and has red under the tail and underwings. It’s very easy to see the red when it is flying.  According to Wikipedia, “Flickers may be observed in open habitats near trees, including woodlands, edges, yards, and parks. In the western United States, one can find them in mountain forests all the way up to treeline. Northern flickers generally nest in holes in trees like other woodpeckers.”

Their primary food is insects, according to the Audubon Guide. However, as with many birds, when insects aren’t available they eat berries, seeds and nuts. Our flicker seems to hang out in the Russian Olive tree at the back of our yard when it first arrives.  Later in the morning it perches near the top of our Cottonwood tree. I don’t have any sunflower or thistle seeds left and I don’t think it is finding any ants, moths, or beetles this time of year.  I haven’t seen it on gooseberry or currant bushes either.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about our yard in terms of wildlife habitat.  While I don’t welcome deer, squirrels, or rabbits in my yard due to their destructive inclinations, I love birds and horned lizards.  When I renewed my membership in the National Wildlife Federation last month, I noticed their Wildlife Habitat Certification webpage.

The webpage states, “Whether you have an apartment, balcony or a 10-acre farm, a schoolyard or a business park, or anything in between, everyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife. Turning your space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat® is fun, easy and makes a big difference for neighborhood wildlife.”

Being curious, I selected the house category and investigated the requirements.  You need to have a minimum of three food sources, one water source, and three places when animals can raise their young.

I have a number of shrubs and trees that produce berries including gooseberries, nanny berries, snow berries, Canada chokecherries, and currants.  I don’t cut down sun flowers until the seeds are gone.  I leave many other flower seed heads on plants until late winter, but am not sure what birds like.

During the summer I have three bird baths that I keep filled with fresh water.  Other than snow, I don’t provide any water during the winter. Most years it is just too cold and freezing/unfreezing would break the birdbaths.  I do remember one early spring morning when I saw a bird “skate” across a frozen bird bath.  It repeated the skating several times.  I wonder if it was looking for open water?

As far as nesting habitat, once we had American robins (Turdus migratorius) nest in our largest Austrian Pine and mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) in our second largest Austrian Pine. I don’t know why they haven’t returned.  Our yard is fairly safe as I discourage neighborhood cats from scratching around and we no longer have a dog.

According to Wikipedia, the robin is one of the earliest bird species to lay eggs, beginning to breed shortly after returning to its summer range from its winter range. A new nest is built for each brood, and in northern areas the first clutch is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub while later broods are placed in deciduous trees. Makes sense to me! Early in the season, deciduous trees are too bare. Most of my deciduous trees aren’t very large yet.  I wonder if we’ll get more nesting birds as they mature?

There are several areas in our yard that have dense shrubs.  It’s near these areas that I usually spy little horned lizards.  I try very hard not to scream when they startle me!  It’s not that I’m afraid of them.  Rather, I off in another world listening to an audio book on my iPod as I plant, trim, or weed.  I don’t know if any other critters use the shrubby habitat.

As I contemplate my summer garden this winter, I will more consciously consider wildlife habitat!

"The wise gardener anticipates June in January."