Welcoming Wildlife

While our garden sleeps, our landscape opens its doors to winter guests. Our breakfast and lunch times seem to coincide with the birds’. A feeder attached to our kitchen window allows us to observe finches, chickadees, tufted titmice, occasionally a cardinal, and even a very hungry red-bellied woodpecker. On a recent icy day, a half-dozen robins visited our heated bird bath. They dipped their feet and bills in the water, warming up their toes and tilting their heads back to drink. Providing a water source in winter is one of the most important things we can do for birds. We use a heating element to melt the ice in our bird bath.

Hoping to attract more berry-loving species, like cedar wax-wings, blue jays, and ultimately orioles, we sliced open a pomegranate and left it on the patio, just outside the door. A few feathered friends pecked at the membrane and carried off juicy treasures, but ultimately, a pair of squirrels took over. Normally pesky thieves, the squirrels are accustomed to being shooed with a particularly high-pitched sound developed by Juniorette for this purpose. However, seeing them up-close, we had to marvel at their hesitant disbelief in their newfound treasure. We watched them steal a few seeds, run away to bury them, return for more, and finally abscond with the entire fruit. At least they cleaned everything up! Stealing birdseed is not nearly so cute, which is why we have the squirrel Flipper bird feeder (finally, vengeance!).

This morning, we were greeted by yet another interloper – a doe – at the bird feeder. Though we still love seeing deer tramp ACROSS our yard, when they stop to dine, they are not nearly so endearing. The Flipper does not work on deer, and neither does my daughter’s high-pitched squirrel sound. In fact, banging on the window and shouting only results in strange looks from neighbors. Deer need to be chased from the bird feeder, and sometimes they just think we’re joining the party. There’s not much we can do about them, save get rid of the birdseed, so we give in to those big doe-eyes and and hope they don’t do too much damage on their way back to what woods remain (or to our neighbor’s feeder).

Of course, what we really want is to invite rarer species to our yard by creating friendly habitats. In summer, that means ensuring plenty of native nectar and pollen sources for the bees and butterflies. We feed the birds year-round, both for our pleasure and to help them through the colder months. There are other species we’d love to see as well. A red fox used to visit periodically; to keep him coming back, we’d need grapevines or a paw-paw tree. The jury’s out on friend or foe where he’s concerned (though I’d love to see him more often).

We recently learned that we can attract flying squirrels to our yard by building a squirrel box. Flying squirrels are more appealing than their terrestrial cousins, in part because they were recently on the endangered species list. They feed mainly on lichens and fungi. In feeding, they help support nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil, which in turn helps plants obtain nutrients. They also eat seeds, nuts, and insects. Peanut butter and birdseed will attract them. My husband built a lovely flying squirrel nesting box, and we are waiting patiently for their arrival. They are nocturnal, so you have to surprise them (or yourself) after dark with some indirect light in order to watch them scurrying up and down trees and flying from limb to limb. Placing red cellophane over a flash light and shining it just below the box is a good way to search for them without disturbing them too much. Several nature centers in our area, including Hidden Oaks and Long Branch have flying squirrel boxes. Try making one yourself! Flying Squirrel Box Building Plan

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