The term 'wildlife habitat' and 'creation stewardship' sometimes conjure up images of wolf packs roaming our cities, endangered species protected from predation in an expansive enclosure, or a ranch where 'throw-away' orangutans now live out their days.
Wrong! The fact is that you probably have a natural wildlife habitat in your back (or front) yard, without having lifted a finger to create it! But in doing so - and letting it thrive - you're honoring your small part of what God made for our sustenance, and that of our animal brethren which we share this earth.
(And just to be clear: 'it' all belongs to God anyway; this is all borrowed from Creator, so we're simultaneously blessed by and responsible for this precious but fragile gift.)
A wildlife habitat can be a space as small as your stove-top, or dining table. Essentially, its an area where critters can eat, drink and be merry. All you really need is this: a source of water, a source of food, protection from predators (both human and animal) and a nesting/birthing area.
The water source can be a birdbath nearby, a creek running through the back woods, a natural or manmade pond or even a hole in the ground lined with plastic, for rainwater collection.
The food source could be berries from a nearby nandina bush,pokeweed or cedar trees, nectar from bee balm, butterfly bush, native lantana, coreopsis, etc., seeds from morning glories, crepe myrtles, millet and sunflower plants, corn, daylily pods, or even your own birdfeeder and suet.
The protective cover can be a birdhouse placed at species-specific height or an overgrown bush that a rabbit family can bunker down in for a winter and protective warren. Yes of course a snake could get into a nest, burrow or other structure to eat the babes, but that is the natural order of things. Our place is to provide what we can, in order to help the critters propagate and thrive, give them 'a leg up' so to speak. In return it offers us great delight, especially if the placement of a habitat or feeder is near a window or porch! You might be surprised at the numbers of small animals who'll visit even the tiniest habitat.
So look around your yard: is there a fenceline that constantly needs weeding, and has canna lilies growing from your neighbor's side onto yours? Perfect! Is there some scrub-oak or sweet gum that you could put a few cedar brances around, then strew leaves/pine needles over for cover? Is there perhaps a 10x10 ft. area in the back yard that you wouldn't mind leaving natural (ie not mowing) throughout the year? Terrific! Do you already have a rocky path or area you'd be willing to put a thatch of mint, clover and perhaps a native bush/shrub around? Great! Then all you have to do is put a plastic or glass dish or aluminum pan destined for the landfill, in the area with a rock or two inside the dish, and keep water in it. (Birds love rocky places, especially after it rains b/c the worms come to the surface - yum!)
Going 'native' with your plant selection needn't be difficult or heart-wrenching. Call your local Dept. of Agriculture - or better yet, see what they plant along the roads and highways in your state - and discover the beauty of species native to your area, and weather-hardy. I always go with perennials, b/c they don't require re-planting or any care at all; in fact that's another benefit to having, for example, a camellia in NC rather than one in southern Florida which will need more shade and more frequent watering, and perhaps pH adjustment of the soil. Another benefit from using native flora: it attract native insects, which feast on them, lay larvae/eggs on them, and the next spring you'll be awed at the abundant birds and other wildlife attracted to those insects.
Yet another way you can be a good steward of creation and help protect and attract birds and various reptiles, insects, butterflies and so on, is to restrain yourself from mowing as frequently (which also saves gas, cuts down on noise pollution, and allows the 'good' weeds which prime the food chain pump, to survive) and cut down on the use of pesticides and herbicides. These not only kill larvae, eggs, crickets, worms and bugs, beneficial snakes, and newly-birthed creatures, the also end up in our landfills and sewer lines, our wells and eventually, our bodies.
Sure, we all like a neat lawn, and some local regulations and home owner associations have guidelines for yards and grass height. But if this interests you, do some research, and talk to community members about the need to provide natural habitats for wildlife, as we expand exponentially with our schools, shopping malls and fast food joints, can go a long way toward helping people see the beauty in 'natural.' (There's also less to mow, which most of us appreciate!)
In South Carolina, many communities are moving toward habitat restoration and adding greenspaces. Ugly, messy, unkempt? No, not at all! Take a guided visual tour through Callawassee Island, a gated community near Beaufort SC and you'll see multi-million dollar homes with large (and lovely) natural areas, frugal use of herbicides and pesticides, and thus, symbiotic living with nature! You can modify to your own comfort level, or do it by degrees. Visit your local DNR or Dept. of Agriculture online (or my website at ShoutLife.com, or in person to get more information. The National Wildlife Assn. actually certifies habitats with a simple application form and fee, and another small fee for a sign designating your habitat as such, and telling others what you are doing (and saying, basically: Please don't disturb, but walk gently.)
Whether you have a small patio or a large acreage, discover the wonder of having more diverse native animals return each year. Friends often come to my house simply to sit in peace while watching the goldfinches, juncos, bluebirds, hummingbirds and the 60+ cardinals that call my place 'home.' Some migrate, of course, but those return each year with even more pals. There is something so essentially divine in being still with God, fully in Him, in the moment, and as one with all He created. It's also quite conducive to meditation and prayer, thought-full-ness, journaling, photography or spiritual connection and study.
This past summer I had over 17 mating pairs of ruby-throated hummingbirds, and they thrived on nothing more than the native flowers and wild volunteer vines I've planted especially for them. No hummer-feeders to wash and fill, no water/sugar mixes necessary.
For the butterflies, I keep shallow bowls of water, pieces of fruit (esp bananas) and mud mixed in, with a few rocks. Then I place container in the sunshine, near the butterfly bush and frequently have to get out my field guide to identify these fascinating, lovely and intricately-detailed creatures.
I plant red clover for the bees every year, to help counter the effects of 'colony collapse disorder' and it is a vast red sea with the busy guests staying close by; I've yet to be stung. I also grow millet and safflower which the birds love, and those particular seeds are sour to squirrels, so they don't ravage the feeders or seed bins.
The woodpeckers abound here; they're everywhere and in all sizes, makes and models. Their doubly-encased brains cushion the endless tap-tap-tap of their long beaks. Even a red-tailed hawk lives at the top of an old cedar in the back woods, her wingspan casting shadows over me as i kneel in the bluestem grass behind the shed.
In the late afternoons, the cardinals and wrens come out to cluster in the rocky driveway, foraging for seeds and anything else they find (I suspect many of the chameleons from the coneflower and verbena beds have been fodder for them!) The flaming-red birds fall silent only with the sun's sigh, at which time i begin to see lightning bugs, hear spring peepers and bullfrogs, and the bunnies scamper, burrowing in for the night - all on my half-wooded acre.
I pick some lettuce, spinach and squash, perhaps a tomato or two, some corn the squirrels and I vie for, a few carrots and mix it into a salad with a fresh slice of bread, and sit at the picnic table near the bird feeder, watching stars stuggle for visibility in the deepening blue.
I know I'm not only fueling my body with high-octane stuff, I'm honored to be helping struggling animal populations to survive. Something rustles in the woods outside the fenceline- probably a deer munching succulent corn I plant at the forest's edge, just for them. Big, goofy TimothyPavlov (my dog) rushes to defend me and the bluejays cackle and mock him before turning in for the evening; they've learned he can't jump the fence and likely wouldn't know what to do even if he could!
I dine at my old, worn picnic/prayer table, while watching these magnificent, oft-eccentric birds co-exist with urban reality and I smile. Yes, I'm learning to be a good steward of this place that for now, I call 'home' and my return on this investment is pure gold. And hey, the sensual satiety sure beats pizza and a movie any day!
Occasionally I'll forget to fill the feeders (the chickadees will scold me as a reminder) or put fresh water in the birdbaths, but not a day goes by that I don't bow reverently to Maker of all life, and for the multitudinous nature He's allowed me to borrow, nurture, and paint on the canvass of my heart. "This is the day You've made Lord; Let me rejoice and give thanks in it. Amen."
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