Inviting Wild Neighbors In
saw the reason for her headache. A sharp-shinned hawk clutched her struggling, fiery-feathered mate.
It was a grim reminder that all the cute little birds at the feeder are no more than supper to predators and that nature is a pretty stark place, not Romper Room for Bambi and his friends. The more we interact with our fellow critters, the more we accept that death is part of life and realize that the environment is a vast, interconnected web where individuals are routinely sacrificed for the good of the species.
If you're going to turn your back yard into a wildlife area, start with a plan. Draw a sketch of the area (do it on graph paper to keep it to scale). You're planting years ahead. Trees will take years to mature and even shrubs don't leap into full growth overnight. Some native grasses may take a couple of years to become established.
Talk with a naturalist. The Conservation Department has nature centers in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Jefferson City and a natural history center in Cape Girardeau. Each has information on working with wildlife.
Most Conservation Department employees have good knowledge of wildlife needs or can send you to someone who does.
If your yard is big enough, you might have more than one "ecosystem" (a grouping of plants and animals suited for each other, like a wetland or a prairie or a wooded area).
Prairie grass seed should be planted on a hard surface. You can collect seed from wild grass, or buy seed. See the article "Tallgrass" in this issue of the Conservationist.
There's no need to plow or otherwise prepare the ground, but you should eliminate as much existing grass cover as possible. Till it shallow and roll it hard.
Prairie is more than grass. There are many "forbs" (plants other than grass), including some that are spectacularly beautiful. Blazing star, butterfly weed, sunflower, coreopsis and coneflower all are common prairie flowers.
The Conservation Department's Missouri Wildflowers book should inspire you. It shows you what the flowers look like and gives information on what habitat they prefer. Some plants, like sweet cicely, are edible, as are wild parsnips. Jan Phillips' Wild Edibles book is a good guide.
You can start wildflowers from seeds in pots or flats, which is the cheapest way. Plant nurseries, arboretums and other sources offer wildflower seeds. (See "Tallgrass.") Nurseries that specialize in wildflowers also will sell you started plants.