Over the past eight years of redesigning and transforming my home, nothing has brought me more joy than the transformation of my yard from an overgrown, unusable space into a welcoming retreat for plants, flowers, trees, birds, critters, and for us humans, too.
After a (relatively) painless application process, my yard is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat. This means that my little space in the world is helping wildlife by providing the four basic elements that all wildlife need: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.
I submitted this story along with a few choice photos to the NWF to have my backyard retreat officially recognized as a certified wildlife habitat.
We decided the setting was perfect for a backyard retreat friendly to birds, wildlife, and humans.
The inspiration came one day when we spotted Eastern bluebirds in another yard in our neighborhood. We bought a nesting box at Wild Birds, Unlimited and erected it in the yard. That was the beginning of our nature adventure.
I grew up in Nebraska City, Nebraska, home of J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. My house was half a mile from Arbor Lodge. But before this house in Georgia, I had never lived on a wooded lot or tried having a bird feeder. The idea was intriguing, so, after we put up the nesting box, we bought a bird feeder, soon followed by seed tube and Nyjer tube feeders, hummingbird feeders, two suet feeders, and two birdbaths.
I had no idea that feeding the birds would be so much fun. Watching the birds flit in and out to feed, learning about their nesting habits, and welcoming the seasonal visitors has developed into a daily education and relaxation for me.
My yard has a grassy area that backs up to a natural area surrounded by large dense bushes and tall trees. The birds love to hide in the Red-tip Photinia bush that is directly behind the feeder. There is a Nelly R. Stevens Holly near the seed tubes that provides shelter and a perfect place to perch. On the side of the yard, there is a large Japanese crytomeria that is a favorite hiding place for the birds between trips to the feeders.
Last spring, an irruptive flock of cedar waxwings completely stripped the 15-foot tall holly, loaded with berries, in a period of about two hours. It was the most amazing thing to watch.
I have also planted an abundant assortment of flowers to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A bed under the main feeder has perennial Sizzle Heatwave Sage and Black & Blue Sage Little One salvia. Pink Mist Pincushion flower explodes with pink blossoms in the spring. Yellow flowered Carolina Jessamine drapes the retaining wall.
The stone footpath in my side yard begins with an arbor covered by a Carolina Jessamine that is near a large fragrant tea olive shrub. The birds love to flit from the olive to a crimson maple tree then hide in the vine on the arbor. Every year there is a nest in the crape myrtle near the driveway. Carolina Chickadees nest in our nesting box. Cardinals nest in the trees.
The squirrels and chipmunks feast on the seed the birds drop under the feeders but some of the seed is always left behind and it soon sprouts. On my website, I posted a video showing a wildlife-friendly tool to remove all the sprouted seeds that grow under the feeders.
Speaking of chipmunks, we have a large retaining wall on the side of the yard that has turned into a chipmunk high-rise condo. The chipmunks have tunneled behind it and have doorways everywhere. They love to sit atop the wall to sun themselves while they feast on acorns dropped from the white oak tree.
Some of the birds who have visited our yard include bluebirds, gold finches, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens and chickadees, and dark-eyed juncos. Ruby-throated hummingbirds love to sit and rest on the red and yellow tomato cages. We have seen eastern towhees, house finches, song sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, doves, woodpeckers, and red-tailed hawks. Georgia’s state bird, the brown thrasher, joined the bevy of birds this summer. Pine siskins gorged themselves at the Niger tube last winter.
A pile of decaying branches and forest litter by the back creek is a perfect breeding spot for fireflies. They grace the night providing a flickering light show in the spring and early summer.
The transformation from a wild and overgrown space to a wildlife friendly habitat is an amazing process, and one that will continue to inspire me and nurture our visitors long into the future. Viva la nature!