Cat TV, Big Screen Version

cat outdoors with colorful ornament

Cookie with our WeatherFish.

After this week, and even on this rainy morning, certain kitties want to visit the yard. It’s my goal some day to at least screen in a porch for them, but I’d love to build a room for them like Chris Davis’s, mentioned at the end of this article.

As Cookie and I cruised the yard, cleaning up branches and pulling aside flattened leaves to find green sprouts—okay, I’m doing the work and cleaning while Cookie supervises—I could also look into each door and window of my house and see everyone else watching us.

I know how much they’d like to be out here with us, especially now that it’s spring and the air is just intoxicating, but unlike Cookie they’d be off to other adventures faster than I could spin around and see them go. And then so much for my Backyard Wildlife Habitat if I introduce a non-native species that would surely wreak havoc on the natural balance—so I see from the neighbor cats who visit. And cats don’t obey property lines and can climb most average backyard fences, and where would I be without them?

photo of cat and flowered dress

Cookie and I have lunch al fresco.

I don’t let my cats outside to roam, but I have always had two or more garden sprites who hang out in the garden while I work outside. Usually this has been the oldest ones in the house who didn’t move too fast and were happy just to be in the outdoors. Cookie, however, has been outdoors with me most of the time she’s been with me because she feels she is somehow responsible for me, or so I gather, because she is never far from me, quietly vigilant, checking in with a head butt or a body rub every few minutes, purring happily and squinting her green eyes.

four cats at door

Giuseppe, Namir, Jelly Bean, Mewsette and Mr. Sunshine watch me out the front door.

But while I enjoy having one or more of my kitties outside with me, I’d also just like to give them the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without me chasing them and without a leash to be tangled in. I have always wanted to build an enclosure that they could access on their own which was strong enough to withstand both the rigors of clever cats and of the weather and wildlife that happen in my yard.

Chris Davis, author, artist and owner of Lighthearted Press, came to the same conclusion when she bought her property in Oregon and set up habitat encouraging native birds, then her dog found a litter of kittens and everything changed. The cats came inside for her dog Jake to raise, and she and her husband planned, designed and built an attractive and durable outdoor “room” using hardware cloth for the walls and roof, bringing in downed trees from the woods and building shelves for kitties walk, climb and snooze on. I haven’t let my kitties know about this or there’d be you-know-what to pay!

photo of cat enclosure

Colorful outdoor room.

When I first saw photos of it I thought it was a greenhouse room or deck with the colorful shelves, benches, tables and plants. Rather than leaving it as a plain and functional space with a grass floor and bare trees and a few shelves, they decorated the space to be a usable area for themselves as well. The room incorporates some of my favorite colors—purple, violet and turquoise—and people can fit in the room as well as cats so Chris can enjoy the outdoors with her cats.

Chris remarks that the enclosure is 366 sq. ft. on the ground. The large section of ground is 23′ x 13′, and the back portion is 10′ x 8′ (yikes, my house is 15′ x 22′, but at least it’s two stories). Plus there is another 66 sq. ft. of back deck.

“So yes, it’s a good size,” she says. “However, this could be any size—even a small enclosure would be loved and appreciated by any cat.”

They first built the structure 10 years ago, and it took about three weeks. Having designed the entire thing themselves they had no advice or other experience to help decide about materials or structure, but only a few changes needed to be made to their original idea.

“We upgraded all the decks and stairs a few years later when it became clear the pile of logs wouldn’t last in our wet weather,” Chris comments on the more rustic beginnings.

photo of cat enclosure

Original enclosure with grass

I wondered if she had left grass as the “floor” in the room, this being the most logical thing to do for kitties who like to be outside, but also thinking of the difficulty of keeping it trimmed in an enclosed space, probably by hand. Initially, most of the “floor” was grass, but ultimately that had to be changed.

“Unfortunately, the grass just could not thrive in the soggy ground. I tried over and over to bring in sod or seed it, but this is Oregon and there’s a LOT of rain. The slope behind the enclosure has natural springs, so a lot of rain wound up in the lowest part of the yard, which was the enclosure,” she explains. “I finally gave up and put in stepping stones with gravel for drainage, and have planted ground cover in the gravel which is growing better. In the summer the kitties love to sprawl on the stepping stones because they’re cool.”

She also decided to cut back on the plants she kept in the room.

photo of cat enclosure

Cat enclosure with Star.

“I do put out cat grass and a few safe cat plants in pots, but over the years I’ve pulled back on those because the kitties just LOVE to eat them…and throw them up. I can hang flowering baskets because they can’t reach those,” she said.

And do her kitties appreciate all her efforts? I can see a feline eye roll and perhaps a tail flick if they’ve found something that hasn’t met their specifications.

“I have 4 sibling cats—they’ll be 12 next month. When I had doggies they loved the enclosure, too,” Chris says of the lucky animals who share their special outdoor space.

And they don’t have the run of it all day and night, only under supervision, in part because of “visitors”.

“I used to keep the dog door open all the time, so they could come and go in any weather. Now I’ve closed that off and give them selected play time during the day, when I’m home and can supervise,” Chris says. “Although I’ve done my best to plug all the holes, I can’t keep the moles from digging under the enclosure and coming up. The cats brought three inside a few summers ago—they just drop them in the kitchen. Thankfully I rescued all the moles, but that’s when it became clear I had to supervise their time much more clearly.”

And do they have a litterbox al fresco?

“There are no litter boxes out there. It’s a hoot to see a cat come running inside, use the litterbox, and then go back out- just like a child!” Chris says.

As far as structural changes, “The only thing I would have done differently was build a weatherproof top. Right now it’s all the 1/4 inch hardware cloth (screen) which is hardy and has withstood our wet weather, but it doesn’t make it pet friendly in the winter,” Chris says. “That has never kept the cats from going out in the rain or snow, but I think it would have been more fun if it had an actual ceiling.”

Chris explains more about her cat enclosure on her website where you can read more about it, see more photos as well as click to a narrated video on YouTube.

cover for every cat an angel

Cover image

Chris Davis is the author and illustrator of beautiful gift books, For Every Dog An Angel, For Every Cat An Angel, Old Dog and the Christmas Wish and Shelter Dog, and most recently Forever Paws, books that celebrate our magical companion animals. When you visit her site to see the enclosure, make sure you read about her books and enjoy the samples pages she has from each one. I really love her whimsical style and the rich, bright blending of colors.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: What Else is In Your Backyard, The Fauna That Fill It

bunny profile in spring garden

Bunny in the spring yard.

This is the third in a series of four articles about considering your backyard wildlife habitat.

One lovely August morning I was harvesting tomatoes in my vegetable garden. The air was pleasantly warm and the garden was still dewy as I crept along, crouching between the tall beefsteaks, picking the newly-ripened tomatoes at the bottom of each plant.

I reached around the base of one plant to get to a tomato in the back and felt a tickly spiderweb on the back of my hand, pulled my hand back and saw A HUGE BLACK AND YELLOW SPIDER RUNNING UP MY ARM!

I jumped up and shrieked, tossing the spider off my right arm into the air, and holding tightly to the basket of precious tomatoes I vaulted a row of Romas in 30” cages from a standstill and ran out into the middle of the yard where nothing could get me, slapping at my arm and shaking myself.

Most of what lives in your backyard you will never see, or never notice, unless you go poking around into their protected little habitats, and it’s there for a reason. Even though I pictured something that had legs as long as railroad crossing bars, it was just a common garden spider, and perfectly harmless to me—but deadly to most of the tiny flying insect pests that might decide to munch on my tomatoes. I hope it didn’t mind being relocated in such an ingracious way.

bee on leek flower

Bee on leek flower.

Finding your residents

Birds are obvious, and are often the reason people consider backyard wildlife habitats, and butterflies have become very popular now that people have realized they can actually attract them with specific plants.

Wild rabbits are generally welcome, squirrels can’t be avoided, and the most dedicated even put up with groundhogs, raccoons, opossums, deer and plenty of other species depending on where you live (you can tell I’m in the northeast) as long as they aren’t predators and don’t pose danger to humans or other animals.
The story continues, keep reading…


Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Helping Avian Friends in Snowy Weather

three cardinals in snow branches

Three Cardinals

Clean off those branches, put out some seed and suet if you can, and don’t forget the all-important water!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t keep Cat TV up and running, even in cold and snowy weather! Not only does birdwatching provide my cats with healthy entertainment and environmental enrichment, it provides it for me too—and welcoming birds to my yard helps in myriad other ways of balancing the habitat and pest control.

birds at birdbath with snow

Winter Water for Birds

I first published this during the 2010 Snowmageddon and aside from the photos above, taken just yesterday, all photos are from February 2010; I’m really glad we haven’t gotten that kind of snowfall—yet.

Even if you don’t have a heavy snowfall, snow and ice hamper the ability to forage for any wild creature but birds have it especially difficult. Heavy snow fills the shrubs and brushy areas they use for cover, their little feet can be caught up in ice and landing on the ground just isn’t safe. They can quickly become exhausted just trying to find a place to perch, and if all their food sources are covered by heavy snow their little lives are actually in danger. Birds need to balance filling their bellies with their ability to fly, so “eating like a bird” entails eating just enough, and eating constantly, so they don’t weigh their little bodies down.

Here are a few things you can do for your backyard visitors once you get yourself shoveled out.

Heavy snowfall

photo of heavy snow on picnic table

Wonderland © B.E. Kazmarski

I was entranced overnight as the snow quickly fell and piled on every surface, even tiny twigs. By morning I was ready with my camera, photographing out of windows and emerging on to the deck and porch to capture the rare and magical transformation of a snow-covered morning here in Western Pennsylvania. Shrubs and small trees were bent down and everything, my brush piles and tall natives left in the habitat included, was covered with an undulating snow blanket at least 18 inches deep.

photo of doves on clothes line

Doves Online

Doves were lined up on the clothes line on my deck and wrens and sparrows were perching under the rockers and other chairs, using my deck for cover and no doubt waiting for me to put out the goodies.

However, as I cleaned off the deck and filled the feeders around the railings and the improvised bird bath I saw flocks of birds headed for both the deck and at least one of the feeders at the end of the yard (the other was hopelessly covered by its small tree completely bent over under the weight of snow), but they weren’t using the feeder and they weren’t perching, which was very strange behavior.

photo of song sparrow on rocker

Song Sparrow on Rocker

I had filled the seed and suet feeders and put out some ear corn yesterday afternoon so they would have it first thing in the morning instead of waiting for me to dig out. If the Cooper’s hawk had been around I wouldn’t have seen any birds at all, except perhaps a sacrificial mourning dove.

photo of birds at a feeder

At the Feeder

Then I took another look at this lovely landscape—the forsythia which is usually filled with sparrows, the pussy willow hosting the larger cardinals and blue jays, even the American Hemlock and brushy saplings around the larger feeder on which and in which the birds are usually perching in wait for the feeders, were all covered with several inches of snow which the birds couldn’t perch on. All the tall stems of goldenrod, asters, coneflower and bergamot that I leave standing for the birds to use as both perches and food sources were completely bent down and covered in snow. Even the ground around the feeders was covered with snow the birds couldn’t even land on top of without dangerously sinking in.

They had no place to land and nothing to eat.

photo of bicycle buried in snow

Backyard and bicycle

This was a totally different interpretation of a lovely snowy morning, and potentially fatal to all my avian visitors. Where smaller mammals can and do tunnel under the snow and larger ones travel over it or can walk through it, birds can’t brush away snow and ice before they land or dig through it to get to something underneath. In order to use the feeder they need to land close, then hop to the feeder. Unless they could land right on the feeder, they couldn’t eat from it, and all their natural sources were under snow, not only in my yard but everywhere.

photo of t-square in snow

36" t-square covered to 18"

Well, I’d probably gotten as many photos as I wanted, so out came the broom and I waded in snow that had drifted deeper than the 18 inches I had measured earlier and swatted away at the forsythia, pulling the longer branches out of the snow on the ground so they could swing free. Then I reached the pussy willow from the deck railing on one side, and the lilac from the other side. As I was working a large clump of snow fell from higher up in the trees at the end of the yard and conveniently knocked the snow off of the feeder in the yard as well as the hemlock and saplings. Thanks, nature!

Clean the snow out of shrubs used for cover

I was barely finished with clearing one bush and then the other before the birds were in it, chattering and fluttering. And even though they are familiar with me—the blue jay had announced that I had come out onto the deck earlier, and that’s the signal for birds to gather in the shrubs around the deck anticipating the daily feeder refill—they don’t usually fly right past my head to get to the feeders, but today they did.

wren under rocker

Wren Under Rocker

“Eating like a bird” has been famously misinterpreted indicating a picky eater, but while birds don’t all eat twice their weight in food every day, they do need to eat proportionally much more than humans, especially in cold weather. Imagine having to hop out of bed into a situation you physically can’t negotiate and having to forage for enough quality food to equal about a quarter to a half of your body weight just stay warm and alive for the day and overnight, using only your face and toes as tools.

Tonight is forecast to be in the single digits, and some birds would simply die overnight if they hadn’t been able to find or access any food today. Out in nature, nobody would brush off the trees and fill the feeders, but with songbird populations imperiled because of habitat fragmentation and pesticide use, they could use a little help from us.

High energy food

photo of cat sniffing snow

What is this stuff?

If you do feed birds, put out some extra stuff, especially high-protein, high-energy foods like hulled sunflower, peanuts and even other unsalted or plain nuts you might have on hand; I donated a cup of crushed walnuts, which were a really big hit. Dried fruits are very good for them now, too, even just a handful of raisins snipped in half so smaller birds can manage them. Many birds eat insects as well as seeds, and suet fills that part of their diet when no insects are available. The extra protein will help them get through a cold night and into tomorrow.

All-important water

Don’t forget the water—just a shallow pan of warm water will keep from freezing most of the day and be easy to punch out and refill in the morning. Rising steam from warm water will help attract them to it.

I have articles on making your own inexpensive bird treats in Birds?! Attract them with homemade suet cakes and also a series of articles on Backyard Wildlife Habitats for more information on inviting and feeding wild birds and other wildlife in your backyard.

photo of two birds on swing

Sparrow and dove on porch swing

If you don’t normally feed birds it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to attract them to a new feeder or water source today. But at least knock the snow off of any shrubs with twigs small enough for bird claws to grasp, and especially from any dense shrubs they would normally use for cover. Birds roost overnight in tree cavities and in other protected places, usually huddled together for extra warmth. While snow is a great insulator this snowfall was really unique in that snow is piled on branches where I’ve never seen it, on the lee side of trees, and some shrubs are completely filled with snow, leaving the most typical spots for avian protection unavailable.

For more information, visit my page for Backyard Wildlife Habitats, and enjoy this series of articles:

What’s in Your Backyard? The First Step in Planning Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat

What Else is in Your Backyard: The Fauna That Fill It

Bringing it All Together: Enhancing and Developing Your Habitat

Also read about my art, photography, poetry and prose inspired by my backyard wildlife habitat:

Art Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Photography Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Poetry Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Prose Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat


Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Attract Birds With Homemade Treat Cakes

birdwatching cats

Birdwatching Cats

Among the requirements for my Backyard Wildlife Habitat, I provide food and shelter for native wild bird species all year round because aside from being fun to watch, they are an important insect guard in my vegetable garden.

Red-bellied woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker turns to look at me and my cats.

In winter, however, I am compelled to put feeders up everywhere I can hang one, and at least one seed feeder is visible from each window in the house as well as suet feeders, ear corn and water. Not only does it give the birds a safe place to eat, drink and be merry, it gives my cats something to do and it gives my eyes a break while I slave at the computer all day into the night.

Read the rest of this entry »


Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Fall Cleanup, Bird Feeding and Fleas

birds at the feeder

The feeder in autumn

So what do these three topics have in common? It’s time to start cleaning up the excess in the yard, raking leaves and giving the grass that last cut of the season, and time to put out the winter feeders as the migrants settle into your area. By taking care of a few extra details with the first two, you can manage the third, fleas, much more easily through the dormant season and into next year. Don’t be fooled after that first frosty morning when all fleas seem to be gone—there may be no more adult fleas, but there are plenty of eggs tucked all over your yard just waiting for spring.

Where Do Fleas Come From?

Fleas begin in the great outdoors, even in the nicest yard, and don’t think that simply because you don’t let your pet outside, or it’s only outside for a short while, that fleas won’t find them. Fleas are tiny and can hop amazing distances to get to a warm body for their blood meal, they can ride in on your own body though they don’t generally feed on humans, and encountering another animal that has fleas either on a walk outdoors or even at the veterinarian’s office can infest your pet without it ever setting a paw in the back yard.

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Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: What’s in Your Backyard?

This is the second in a series of articles about considering your backyard wildlife habitat.

photo of pink phlox

Tall Phlox © 2010 B.E. Kazmarski

You think planning your garden is fun? Wait until you start an inventory of what’s currently available for wildlife in your yard. You will be shocked at what you have already, and if you’re not too clear on native species now just the process of identification will show you at least your most common native plants and animals and you’ll feel like an expert.

Where and how you garden

If you are reading about a backyard wildlife habitat, then it’s probably safe to assume that you are already gardening, even if you live in an apartment or just have a patio.

I gardened for a while with a flower box on my apartment balcony railing, a half-barrel with tomatoes, peppers and basil, a bird feeder and a deep-dish pie pan for a birdbath. I also had a garden behind an apartment building where I wasn’t supposed to garden, and I don’t suggest you do that, but it just illustrates that gardening can be done anywhere there is soil, light and water—and determination—and birds, bees and butterflies will come.

Likewise, the habitat doesn’t need to be in your backyard, nor be confined to your backyard. Community gardens, parks and other public places are also habitats—native flora and fauna don’t recognize our boundaries. The public area may also have most or all of the requirements for a habitat, or with permission of the authority for the public area you may enhance it. Whatever your space, consider it your habitat for the purposes of inventory.

Read the rest of this entry »


Find Cookie in this Picture

cat in leaf litter

Find Cookie in this picture.

Yes, tortoiseshell cats blend perfectly into any landscape! I constantly lose Cookie as her speckles and patches are perfectly camouflaged by leaves and mulch and moving shapes of sun and shadow through the trees. I was watching her out of the corner of my eye as usual but suddenly she disappeared! She hadn’t—she just sat down for a little break. She’s going to have to suffer the indignity of a flourescent pink collar lest I suffer the misfortune of a heart attack if I can’t find her—in plain sight!

cat with sawdust

Cookie with sawdust on her head.

We pitiful humans need feline supervision no matter what we do, even if it’s something no kitty would ever stoop to endeavor such as tree trimming and lawn clean up. Cookie is a specialist in everything.

This area was always shady under the high branches of the trees, mostly my neighbors’  and I encouraged woodland plants to grow in the shade and undergrowth. About ten years ago a mulberry tree sprouted in the corner of the yard and spread over the area somewhat close to the ground, providing a little too much shade for some of the plants.

photo of mulberries

Mulberries on a Summer Morning

However, it provided the best mulberries I have ever, EVER, tasted, like big deep purple blackberries, sweet and juicy and just falling off the tree. Really, when the tree was ready to bear these farthest branches touched by the sun would lean down toward the earth so that I didn’t even need to use a ladder but could stand and readily harvest them. I always felt as if the tree was telling me, “Look, now, my berries are just right, come and harvest, and make your jelly and juice and wine and dye and extracts, use my berries for all they are worth because there is more than enough for you and all the birds and animals.”

I had been about to remove her because I loved my shade garden and so did all my cats, but with all that, who could resist?

But two years ago the ice storm pulled her down and partially uprooted her. I tried to prop her and encourage her to produce her berries, but it appears she is done. I’ve been trimming back and cutting sections with lopping shears and pruning saw but leaving the lovely arching branches that have held my bird feeders for the past decade. I am looking forward to the renewal of my shade garden; with the iron will of these wild flowers I’ve no doubt they will return on their own since trees grow and fall all the time in the woods.

bench in greenery

My old bench.

I’m looking forward to spending time on my bench again to read and sketch and think and watch the birds, and commune with my little kitty memorial spot which is behind but near there. Perhaps Cookie and I will sit out there some sunny late afternoon this autumn.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Start Planning Now

many flowered aster

Many Flowered Aster leaning over the picnic table.

Leaves are beginning to fall, migrating birds are settling in, my favorite wildflowers, the autumn asters, are blooming and I’m planning what I’ll grow and do in my yard next year.

Enjoying the experience of an mild autumn afternoon or helping the birds through a cold winter day is a pleasure as I share the awareness of life in this little piece of wilderness, here in Backyard Wildlife Habitat No. 35393.

Planning Ahead

If, like me, you keep a garden of flowers or vegetables or both, you’re probably already planning out your garden for 2012 . And if you feed birds summer or winter and have an awareness of other flora and fauna in your yard and area, you might want to work a plan for a backyard wildlife habitat into this year’s garden, or you might find that you’ve already got the important parts and you want to enhance or start expanding it.

Just What Is a Backyard Wildlife Habitat?

photo of yard in spring with bench under trees

The woodland garden in spring.

It’s not turning your yard into a weed patch, as I’ve heard some people worry. It’s simply providing for the needs of your native species of flora and fauna so that they can thrive and reproduce.

Basically, if you have a bird feeder and bird bath, you or your neighbors have a few mature trees of various species and some dense twiggy shrubs or evergreens and flowering plants in your yard, you are providing for the needs of many species. And you can even provide habitat if you live in an apartment; if you feed birds outside your apartment window and have hanging baskets of plants that attract hummingbirds, and your neighbor has trees with nesting opportunities for wildlife, you have created a habitat.

Read the rest of this entry »


Living Green With Pets: Put Bird Feeders Out Now for Migrants

two black cats watching birds

Birdwatching

Birds are migrating right now, and while most people feed birds through the winter it’s not a bad idea to start a little early while they are migrating. They’ll appreciate the pit stop to be able to pack in more fat and calories, have a bath and a good long drink! Plus, a certain number will decide to stop and stay with you for the winter.

photo of cardinal in grass

Our silly cardinal

I feed birds year-round, and I always credit them with keeping vegetable and flower pests under control, especially fleas. I know they also peck around through the grass eating fleas. Those starlings and grackles who march around on your lawn? They’ll happily eat fleas. Robins in the spring? Fleas don’t stand a chance. Songbirds that eat insects? Fleas are a natural part of their diet.

woodpecker and wren at feeder

Ms. Wren had better watch her step

So put out your feeders early, while the migrants are arriving and food is still plentiful so they’ll settle in more readily, using as much black oil sunflower seed as possible since it’s the universal favorite of birds which commonly visit feeders and gives the most energy for the energy expended to open the seed and eat it.

If they aren’t finding your feeders try adding a suet cake to the display. Suet cakes aren’t just for winter feeding—they provide concentrated high-protein, high-energy food that’s easy to eat and easy to digest. Birds not only need this to keep warm in the winter, but also while they travel hundreds of miles each day to reach their winter destination, often without stopping at all. In fact, a recent study of migrating Swainson’s thrushes shows that birds pack in the fat not only to sustain energy while traveling, but also to provide water without stopping to drink. Suet cakes won’t melt in warm weather, so don’t worry about a mess. If you can’t find suet cakes yet, or find they are a little expensive, I have a recipe for homemade ones, though these may soften if temperatures rise above 80 degrees or they are in direct sun for some time.

sparrows in birdbath

Sparrow Bath

But a water source is just as important as the food and even more of an attractant, since flowers and seeds and insects are everywhere, but water sources can be scarce. You can keep your birdbath going until the temperatures drop below freezing, or if you have a special watering station you use in winter you can set it out now so they become accustomed to it.

Don’t worry that feeding birds will take away their interest in their natural diet—most studies show that birds get about 10% of their total food intake from seed feeders. Feeding them while migrating helps reduce mortality. And if insects are their diet, they’ll still happily devour any insect that visits your yard, including those that hatch on a warm day!

For great tips on birdfeeding, attracting birds and identifying birds, visit the Project Feederwatch website under Birds and Bird Feeding.

Plus, they’ll provide lots of entertainment for your cats, which might sound like a luxury but it’s a very important element in an indoor cat’s daily life. Don’t forget, it’s Happy Health Cat Month, and keeping them naturally entertained and flea free keeps them both happy and health!

four black cats at window

Let Us At Him

For more information on bird feeding and Backyard Wildlife Habitats, visit my Backyard Wildlife Habitat page.

For more information on naturally controlling fleas in your yard year round, read Fall Cleanup, Bird Feeding and Fleas, and also As Natural as Possible: Outdoor Flea Control.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Snowed In? Start Planning Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat

This is the first in a series of articles on building your backyard wildlife habitat and includes the index to all the articles at the bottom.

male cardinal in snowy forsythia

Cardinal in Forsythia

At dusk a male cardinal, always the last to feed, sat on a branch in the bare lilac outside the north window, bobbing slightly in the wind, sounding his loud, hard “chip! chip!”, his color slowly fading to gray as the light faded from the day and light flurries softened the landscape. I don’t know if he’s saying “good night” or “thank you” or “can’t you turn up the heat” or if he’s not saying anything to me at all, but if I’m at my desk when dusk falls on a winter evening, the cardinal is outside, looking right at me, speaking his piece.

After dark I was in the back yard when the cloud cover parted and the moon, a little past full, shone on the light dusting of snow. The stillness of a bitter cold winter night can be unnerving, the sudden, slight rustle of dry shriveled leaves still hanging on your phlox can seem like a whispered conversation right at your elbow, and the sound of my rubber clogs crunching the snow was so loud I caught myself on tiptoe trying to minimize my disturbance to the night.

It was 11 degrees with a dusting of snow. I’ve no doubt I’ll see the thermometer drop a few more degrees before I decide I’m done for the day.

painting of junco on snowy branch

Snow Bird © 2010 B.E. Kazmarski

I think of the birds and bunnies and squirrels and the others who are supposed to be hibernating but I see their prints and sometimes see them, at this time of day nestled in their preferred night cover, keeping warm with a good day’s food and water in their bellies. I’ve inventoried the winter residents of my little back yard and taken care to provide winter cover and a good varied diet and water for them to drink.

I was outside gathering the plastic dishes, now full of frozen water, to be refilled and replaced outdoors in the morning. It’s part of the years-long habit of maintaining my backyard wildlife habitat.

And enjoying the experience of a cold winter night is as much a pleasure as a warm summer morning as I share the awareness of life in this little piece of wilderness, here in Backyard Wildlife Habitat No. 35393.
 The story continues, keep reading...

This topic has so much information that I’ve decided to break this into a series of articles. This is the introduction, and I’ll also be covering:

  • how I established my yard as a habitat using my diagrams and plant lists as examples
  • how to find information on native species in your area
  • converting more of your lawn to vegetation
  • moving toward non-chemical methods of yard maintenance
  • feeding this, that and the other
  • identifying birds in your area
  • insect-eating residents: bats, spiders, toads, garter snakes and birds

Planning Ahead

If, like me, you keep a garden of flowers or vegetables or both, you’re probably already planning out your garden for 2010. And if you feed birds summer or winter and have an awareness of other flora and fauna in your yard and area, you might want to work a plan for a backyard wildlife habitat into this year’s garden, or you might find that you’ve already got the important parts and you want to enhance or start expanding it.

Just What Is a Backyard Wildlife Habitat?

photo of yard in spring with bench under trees
The woodland garden in spring © 2010 B.E. Kazmarski

It’s not turning your yard into a weed patch, as I’ve heard some people worry. It’s simply providing for the needs of your native species of flora and fauna so that they can thrive and reproduce.

Basically, if you have a bird feeder and bird bath, you or your neighbors have a few mature trees of various species and some dense twiggy shrubs or evergreens and flowering plants in your yard, you are providing for the needs of many species.

And not just for birds and mammals. You are also providing opportunities for growth and reproduction for plants and trees by allowing them to grow in an appropriate habitat, and, since they are pretty much stuck in one spot and depend on insects, birds and animals to reproduce and spread their seeds, you’re providing that as well by attracting the birds.

Insects use plants for food, nesting and reproduction, and birds and other species such as bats eat insects. It all works together.

photo of bergamot flower with bee

Bergamot with Bee © 2010 B.E. Kazmarski

You can build on this basis and provide specific native plants that flower in various seasons, not just summer, you can feed all year, provide nesting boxes, leave the plants in your garden through the winter, and so on, each action providing more and more for your native species.

The concept is really not any more complicated than that. I had mine registered through the National Wildlife Federation in 2003 after I had spent a few years doing an inventory of all that was here and adding and arranging things until I felt it was ready.

Today I see information on these habitats in garden centers and birding stores and organizations, at the zoo and through local environmental organizations. I’m glad to see it’s so readily available and easy to understand, and especially that many schools are using backyard wildlife habitats as learning tools.

You can go as far as you want with it, and if you stay with bird feeders and bird baths and the right kind of shrubs and native plants to provide cover, nesting sites and nesting materials, you are providing a great service to your local area in helping to preserve your native species.

The Eco-system

photo of bird bath in garden
The bird bath in the shade garden © 2010 B.E. Kazmarski

Nature finds a balance that allows all species within a given area to thrive. That area can be your back yard, or it can be an entire geographic region in which the plants and animals that depend on each other for their basic needs all tend to live together in balanced numbers.

For instance, American Goldfinches depend on milkweed, thistle and other plants with energy-rich seeds and downy fluff in flowers or seed parts for nesting material and food to the extent that they don’t nest until midsummer when these flowers are finished blooming and going to seed. They use the down to line their nests, and their young are fledging and they are about to migrate when the rich seeds are mature, and they feast on the seeds, leaving on their migration when the local seed heads are just about spent. Birds migrate by day length, not food supply, so unless there is a shortage in seeds it just works out that it’s time to go at about the time the thistle are finished.

I have managed my yard organically since I moved here 19 years ago. I have my share of insect pests but they never get out of control, and I think it’s because the resident birds take care of them. I may see a cluster of aphids on the top of a broccoli plant in the morning, by evening they are gone. When the blue jays find a tomato hornworm, they drop everything and have a Hornworm Festival, tossing it from one to another all day. I feel bad for the poor thing, but I’d feel worse if it laid its eggs and infested my precious tomatoes!

Stay tuned for the next installment. Until then, get those garden books out and picture your yard in summer!

About the art and photos used in these articles and on this blog

All the images used in this blog are mine, many from my own backyard. For years I’ve been documenting the flora and fauna here in photography and art, just for my own purposes. All of the images are also available as prints and notecards, some of which I have printed and sell regularly, but I can custom print any image on my site. If you see something you’d like, check my Marketplace blog to see if it’s a recent offering, the Marketplace on my website, which outlines everything I sell as merchandise, or e-mail me if you don’t find it in either place. Please also respect that these images and this information are copyrighted to me and may not be used without my consent, but please ask if you are interested in using something and feel free to link to my articles.

Also read the next articles in this series:

What’s in Your Backyard? The First Step in Planning Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat

What Else is in Your Backyard: The Fauna That Fill It

Bringing it All Together: Enhancing and Developing Your Habitat

Also read about my art, photography, poetry and prose inspired by my backyard wildlife habitat:

Art Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Photography Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Poetry Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Prose Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat