A Site Visit to a Backyard Habitat

Sharon Burke and Vince Smith, both nature enthusiasts, had already made a good beginning on making their yard a haven for wildlife when they requested a Backyards for Nature site visit. Their yard had bird feeders, two birdbaths, three nest boxes, some tall trees, and a few other native shrubs and perennials that were attracting a number of birds. However, they wanted to entice a greater variety of birds, butterflies, and other animals to their half-acre yard. They also sought advice about reducing their lawn using native plants in a way that would be attractive to themselves and their neighbors, too.

Preliminary to the site visit, Sharon and Vince completed the BFN Landscape Audit Form and made a drawing of their property. With this information as background, I felt prepared to conduct a consultation and scheduled a date for the visit. On a pleasant day in May we discussed their goals for their backyard habitat and then toured the yard to assess the presence of food, water, cover, and places to raise young for wildlife. Some of the improvements we agreed upon were:

  1. Move bird feeders and a birdbath closer to the kitchen window and add cover.
  2. Create a hummingbird/butterfly garden near the house.
  3. Add more dense native shrubs and small trees to provide cover and food for birds and to reduce visibility from neighbors.
  4. 4. Install a pond with a recirculating pump and mister.

Before leaving, I recorded my recommendations on the BFN Backyard Consultation Form. On the map they had drawn, I sketched in locations for the pond, hummingbird garden, shrub areas, and other features for wildlife. To assist them with carrying out their plans, I also gave them handouts including a list of recommended native plants, sources for purchasing these plants, a bibliography, and information from the National Wildlife Federation about having their property certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

According to Sharon, “The results of the consultation and the actions we took were instantaneous.” She was inspired to immediately plant a hummingbird garden outside the kitchen window with recommended plants like Monarda, Scarlet Runner Bean, Trumpet Honeysuckle, and Scarlet Sage. “Hummingbirds were battling at the feeders within two weeks. We also saw them feed at the nearby plants.” Since the couple wanted a better view of goldfinches and other birds, they moved the bird feeders and a birdbath closer to the house and added coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans. For the butterflies that use this area, they’ve installed a shallow basin filled with damp sand where salts accumulate.

Some of the changes Vince and Sharon are making are aesthetic in nature. Because they were concerned that the natural landscaping they prefer would be distasteful to their neighbors, they have put in a formal garden in the front yard. There and along the sides of the property they’ve installed traditional plants like hostas and day lilies to provide a gradual transition from the public to the private natural areas. They are allowing a 25-foot square section of the property to return to a natural state. They will also plant red cedars around the brush pile to shield it from view.

Other wildlife-friendly projects are planned. Next spring they will install a pond with various depths, a waterfall, and a mister that should attract frogs, dragonflies, toads, and more birds. By transplanting berry-producing native shrubs including volunteer spicebushes, they will create an understory that will provide food and cover for their beloved birds and other wildlife. Weeding out invasive species like multiflora rose, oriental bittersweet, and Japanese honeysuckle will be an ongoing task. Before long they will submit their application for certification as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat to the

In conclusion, Vince says, “We are having great fun. The habitat improvements have made a huge difference in the number of species of birds and animals that show up on the property. We now have 66 birds on our yard list including Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, and Blackpoll Warbler. Bluebirds, orioles, robins, and wrens have nested here.” Sharon is also enthusiastic and adds, “We find the more we plant and the bigger our brush pile grows, the more species we attract. I can’t wait to find out what happens next year.”