If you haven't heard about the Internet celebrity barn owls, Molly and McGee, you are missing out on quite the soap opera! Molly is now raising her second clutch of owlets this season, and all of their owl antics can be witnessed live on the Internet 24/7 via a high-tech owl box. As evidenced by the millions of regular viewers who tune in at all hours of the day and night and blog about every momentous milestone, this glimpse into an innocent owl family's lives can be quite addicting.
All this hype started with a simple act of installing an owl box in a California backyard just to provide a little shelter to a wandering bird. While it has clearly evolved into something bigger, it has made all the difference in the world to this special owl couple. You see, it's quite rare for barn owls to raise two clutches of offspring in one season. That only occurs when conditions are just right.
What conditions are those? Animals and humans alike require some very fundamental things to survive. Space. Food. Water. Shelter. In just the right combination, in just the right amounts, we can provide a habitat that allows a host of organisms to thrive.
Maybe you're not looking to become the next Internet sensation, but you might be interested in seeing what sort of wonderful wildlife can make themselves at home in your backyard. Here are some tips you might consider in providing a backyard habitat.
Space. Providing space for wildlife simply means giving more to them and taking less for yourself. Very few animals need or admire a large expanse of lawn. Besides, turning that space over to plantings that provide shelter and food actually can mean less maintenance on your part.
Food. Supply a variety of feeding methods and opportunities. There are as many different types of feeders as there are types of eaters and species. Think about the types of birds you'd like to attract before selecting the type of feeder. Do they eat seeds, nuts or suet? What about a hummingbird feeder?
And don't forget about the bees and butterflies that depend on just the right flower nectar, or the deer that enjoy a bit of scattered corn. Rabbits will appreciate green, tender grasses, while dragonflies will devour the mosquitoes attracted to still water.
Just remember that many animals will depend on your supplies during the cold, winter months. Be sure there is an adequate amount of food available throughout the year.
Water. Provide water in a natural low spot, create a pond or set up a bird bath. Not only is it necessary for drinking, but it may be used for bathing or even as a home for frogs and other amphibians. It also attracts insects that are eaten by birds. Be sure the water is fresh, free of ice in the winter and replenished regularly. Animals will grow accustomed to your water supply, so it's very important to be consistent.
Shelter. Everyone needs a home. Bird houses, bat houses, toad abodes are all great offerings to provide places to breed and raise offspring, as well as hide from predators. Even a small wood pile, an old log or rock pile will be used by squirrels, lizards and box turtles.
Selecting the right trees and shrubs not only provides food for wildlife, but makes excellent nesting sites. Native plants are generally your best and most reliable choice. They are adapted to survive in this area and are exactly what local wildlife need. A selection of soft nesting material will be appreciated by birds and other animals to construct a warm bed for the night.
A few other things to consider: In order to keep wildlife safe, it's best to use non-toxic pest control and fertilizer. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs and whiteflies can help control pests, and there are a number of non-toxic pesticide recipes online. Be sure to control your household pets, so that they do not disturb visiting wildlife. Some excellent animal-friendly fertilizer can be purchased at the next Zoo Doo sale! Watch for an announcement coming soon!
The National Wildlife Federation along with the county Extension office, the library and, of course, the zoo are great resources in helping you identify local wildlife and determine your best plant options, as well as other information.
With just a little preparation and homework about the native plants and animals you enjoy, you, too, can create an oasis in your own backyard, and one of the best rewards is sitting back to enjoy your new visitors. Be sure that you place feeders near a window or position a comfortable bench for optimum viewing at your pond and feel good about the haven you have created for your feathered, furred and scaled guests.