Inviting Wild Neighbors In

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

Here's how to make your back yard attractive to wildlife.

It's known as the back yard.

Charlie Schwartz, late artist and moviemaker for the Conservation Department, carefully skirted bunches of wildflowers when he was mowing the back yard. The little wildflowers were instant landscaping.

Don Christisen, retired wildlife biologist for the Conservation Department, turned his lawn into a mini-prairie. He fought a long skirmish with city officials who claimed he was letting his lawn grow up in weeds, in contravention of city ordinance.

Don won.

Our rural back yard is somewhat more of a wildlife area than most city back yards - it extends 40 acres. But we still plant and encourage wildlife to move closer to the house. A half-dozen bird feeders dangle from close by trees like strange Christmas ornaments.

We have several bat houses by the lake and a cedar log sauna which is home to a substantial black rat snake that once fell on the shoulder of a guest as he blissfully basked in the same heat that was making it too uncomfortable for the snake.

The house is new so we can start wildlife landscaping from the ground up. We already have one major component, a source of water. A one-acre pond is only a few feet from the front of the house.

We have worked on the pond over the years. I've dropped a couple of trees in the water which provides logs for basking turtles. One warm spring morning, there were seven lined up, enjoying the new season as much as me.

I'm planning to dig a small waterhole above the pond and use a recirculating pump to draw water from the pond to create a small waterfall. It wouldn't take much electricity and would become a birdbath and frog pond.

Prospecting Canada geese often visit the pond. We've entertained wood ducks, grebes and a stately blue heron. But they don't stay because of our barking dogs. Some back yard wildlife just won't tolerate that much activity. Most city dwellers won't be able to pull everything in, because of human activity and a lack of wildlife travel lanes to the area.

But there's always something, especially birds. Everyone knows about bird feeders, but many plants are natural bird feeders. The flowers of red buckeye are a magic draw for hummingbirds, and it's eminently more satisfying to see a hummingbird at a flower rather than at a feeder.

Birds zero in on fruiting shrubs and trees, as

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