My First Wildlife Habitat


Since I was a child chasing lightning bugs at twilight, I've been enchanted by wildlife. I lived in a house with a very small yard in a subdivision of Rancho Bernardo, California from 1990 until August of 1999. It was the first time I had ever owned a yard, and the first thing I did when I moved in was to plant a hummingbird garden. I planted honeysuckles growing up the posts of the front arbor, and within a year I could enjoy the antics of the hummingbirds almost year round. It only takes a square foot to plant a honeysuckle vine, and the benefits to the little creatures are immense -- the nectar attracts not only the birds themselves, but also tiny insects which the hummers relish. I never put up commercial feeders after the first year because they were attracted to the vines. That first year I also planted a jacaranda, a tree beloved by Southern Californians for the bright lavender flowers that bloom late each spring. I've never seen jacarandas listed as a hummingbird attractant; nevertheless, my hummers used this tree spring through summer to rest and perhaps to eat.

One day I saw a hummer flitting in and out of a sprinkler. A new passion was born. I started doing research on how to get a water feature into the yard to attract not just hummingbirds, but other birds as well. That little hummingbird started me on a comprehensive search for ways to take my hummingbird garden up a notch. This search started with the Internet, and it wasn't long before I stumbled upon the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program which is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation.

My garden couldn't be a "backyard" wildlife habitat, because I only had a front yard. But I planned my wildlife garden for my small front yard, and when I was done, I applied for certification. Shortly before I moved from the area, my yard was certified. I had "installed" a shallow, recirculating bird pond in the ground, and the hummingbird bathed daily.

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Species that don't eat at feeders also came to the water, and one day I was thrilled to see three or four beautifully colored warblers bathing themselves. But by far the biggest thrill of all was when the combination of the water and the niger seed in the feeder attracted a flock of American Goldfinches. I had lived in the San Diego area for 30 years and had never known these colorful little creatures inhabited the area.

The bird pond in my certified habitat in Rancho Bernardo in February with the bloom of daffodils. The birds loved it, and I loved watching them from the window.

When I moved across country, I installed a new pond, but the blessing of a yard filled with hardwoods soon clogged it up with leaves and I abandoned the effort. A large stream in the neighborhood provides the wildlife with the water it needs, although unfortunately not within my view. I designed my new habitat with a removal of the lawn and an emphasis on native species. They've mostly thrived with no care, and my wildlife garden is now something of a wild garden. I spot several species of birds, butterflies, squirrels, and rabbits scooting away as I drive up the driveway from work each evening.

Without the water feature, I won't apply for Wildlife Habitat certification now, but I know I'm doing my part. I created the garden graphics when I was learning Fireworks several years ago, and they'll remain on this section of my site as a reminder of the fun I had. I'll also leave up the "how to's" for creating the basics in case anyone stumbles across the site (and because as retirement nears, I know I'll want to review the basics). When I started wildlife habitat gardening 15 years ago, I thought it was important. Now I think it's twice so, and I look forward to the day when one of my neighbors removes their lawn in favor of more wildlife (and people-friendly) terrain.

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