Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to Make Wildlife Friends

I don't live in a particularly rural area. My house is on a street that everyone seems to forget exists, sandwiched between Main Street on one side, and a three-lane highway on the other.  It's not New York City by any means, but I'm not out in the sticks either.  I can fit the entire backyard into one photo.

That's it, folks.  There is a fence between my garage and the neighbor's shed.  To the left is my driveway, and I am literally on the back steps to take the picture.  

It's not a great deal of real estate that I am talking about, and yet a surprisingly large number of woodland creatures have come to visit.  I'm convinced I couldn't have gotten more new friends even if I tried.  

To that end, I've decided to make a handy list of things that I did that seem to make me super-popular amongst the neighborhood animals.  You can use these tips to gain your own Snow White-esque following, or avoid these things like the plague in an attempt to keep unwanted visitors from your yard.  Your call.


1)  Get a bird feeder.  I like birds, and I like hearing them out in the yard.  Jazz-kitty loves birds for an entirely more edible reason, and watching them keeps her amused when I am at work.  **Bonus tip: if you really want to see birds, throw some leftover popcorn out there.  They went crazy for it!**

We have some crows

Some Blue jays

A whole party going on here

And lots of these guys, who will beat each other senseless over a suet feeder.

Here's a helpful tip that no one gave me before I put up a bird feeder:  you best like squirrels as well.  Even if you have never noticed any squirrels in the vicinity before, if you put up a bird feeder they will magically appear.

They are masters at reaching the feeder.

They will hang out in the garden.

And they will readjust your security light for you.  

If you are really lucky, like me, they will also move into your garage for the winter.  No, it's not a good thing.  I haven't actually caught one in the act of exiting the garage yet, but I heard the scrabbling along the edge of the roof when I was filling the bird feeder the other day, and in the fall I saw one pulling leaves up into the eaves. They can stay there until Spring arrives with warmer weather, but then they are getting evicted.  I'm afraid it may turn into a Caddyshack scenario, but I refuse to blow up the garage -- I'm drawing the line there.

Bird feeders will also bring deer.  Creepy deer.  Don't believe me?  Click that last link I posted to my blog entry where I caught the big guy under my bird feeder munching away.

2) Put in a vegetable garden.  Doesn't matter how small it is, it will definitely bring you new animal friends.  You might think you are growing the vegetables to eat yourself, but you will be sharing.  Just accept that.  

If you didn't have deer coming to visit your bird feeder you will definitely get them coming to visit your garden.  I've also seen a rabbit and a groundhog, although they were too fast for me to get a decent picture.

Tip from a friend: plant marigolds at the edges of the garden and it will help ward off the deer.  I tried it this year, and it worked pretty well.  Some things still got nibbled,  but once again my brussels sprouts got demolished.  Apparently I am not the only one who thinks they are tasty!

Here's my cute little garden, complete with marigold protection.

I added more protection to give the plants a fighting chance at growing.

Brussels sprout carnage

3) Feed the neighborhood feral cats.  I will totally cop to doing this on purpose.  It was so cold, and they were so skinny, and I love cats.  I couldn't stand to see them out there starving to death.  I know they sleep in the shade in my yard in the heat of summer days, but I don't know where they sleep at night.  I only see them passing through in the evening, and I will feed them when I see them.  

Mama cat is on the left, the other two are her kittens.

This little one is the only one I have seen in recent months, which makes me sad.  I'm hoping the others were taken in by someone.

Word of warning, you can also attract unwanted guests when you put out cat food.  Apparently dry cat food is a delicacy for raccoons.  I heard a weird sound outside one summer night, and I thought at first it was one of the feral cats crying in pain.  I went out to investigate, and there was a raccoon, standing at the bowl of dry food and stuffing its face.  Skunks also find find Friskies to be awesome, as I discovered in a too-close-for-comfort moment.

Blue jays, the pushy assholes of the bird world, also will eat dry cat food.

Who, me?  I'm totally not eating the cat food.

4)  You best like deer.  I don't think you have to do anything to have them visit your yard, they just wander on through if you live in this area.  They can be creepy some times.  I honestly had know idea they were in my yard until my neighbor told me.  Now I see them all of the time.

Nope, I was absolutely not just in your yard.  Not at all.

Could you go back inside so I can come get a snack?  Thanks.

Bird feeders are awesome!

5) You can also attract bug friends!  I have mint growing along the side of the house, near the driveway.  Every year I get at least one praying mantis living in there.  

Hello, neighbor!

Do you mind if I have a snack?

I also seem to get a lot of grasshoppers in the same area, and in the front of the house.

I'm here too.  Mint is awesome!

The bumble bees seem to love the Rose of Sharon that grows next to the house.  I can take no credit for this, as it was here when I bought the place.

Peonies, while beautiful, attract ants.  Cut them and put the blossom upside down in water before bringing them into the house to keep the ants outside.

I also get lots and lots of honey bees, which is great!  Everyone needs to help out the honey bees.  I have a plant that a coworker gave me, and he told me it was a butterfly bush.  It's not.  It bears no resemblance to my mother's plants.  I have no idea what it is, but the honey bees love the mystery plant.  Sadly, I don't have a picture of it. 

So there you have it.  A handy list of things to do (or not do) if you want to attract (or not attract) all sorts of wildlife friends to your yard.  

 I make no guarantee that avoiding these things will keep wildlife from your yard.  They are going to do what they want, whether you like it or not.  Maybe if you cover your entire backyard in cement you might avoid unwanted visitors...but probably not.

And before anyone asks -- yes, I took all of the pictures myself.

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