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.

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Holiday Cards: Greetings From Our Backyard Birds

pastel painting of cardinal in branches

Accent, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

These designs don’t involve cats, but they do show our backyard birds which many readers here at The Creative Cat enjoy.  I’ve posted an article about them on Portraits of Animals Marketplace.


Living Green With Pets: Bringing Plants Indoors

cookie looks at the snow

Cookie greets a snowy morning.

We had an unexpected snowfall overnight and this morning, and while I’ve known for weeks I needed to do something with my plants before they ended up as frozen mush, snowfall was decidedly a surprise.

It was also better than the alternative at this time of year, a freeze, because while more tender plants will be tinged with air cold enough to produce snow, it’s also full of moisture which helps to protect leaf and petal surfaces, and plants under cover of a deck or tree aren’t as badly affected. A freeze is typically cold with a clear sky and low humidity, and any plant outdoors that has moisture in its leaves is pretty much done for.

Often annual plants are thriving in the autumn, into a second bloom after the heat of late summer is moderated by the cool dampness of early autumn. Many plants can be brought indoors and kept as houseplants through the winter, which saves you both time and money next spring when you can start with plants that are already growing.

geraniums in the snow

The geraniums were enjoying the autumn.

You may have a variety of plant or a color of flower that is difficult to find, a plant that has an emotional tie to someone, or heirloom plants you’ve purchased or started from seed or cuttings. But you need to take precautions about what plants do well indoors, what might hitch a ride indoors with your plants, and what your pets might decide to do with all that lush greenness.

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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.

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Are Your Pets Prepared For An Emergency ?

flooded area

Flash flooding in Carnegie, PA during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

by Karen  Sable, Guest Columnist

September is “National Preparedness Month,” which was started in 2004 by FEMA and the Dept. of Homeland Security to encourage Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies. With that in mind, this is a timely opportunity to ask yourself if you have a good Emergency/Disaster Plan for your family which includes any pets you may have.

If you had to quickly evacuate your home, and possibly be unable to return for an extended period, do you have a “Go Kit” stocked and ready for you and your pets that would enable you to be self-sufficient for at least 5-7 days? Do you know where you could/would go with your pets ? If you lost all power and were unable to leave your home for some time (remember “Snowmageddon” ), would you and your pets have enough food, water, medications, and other supplies to be able to wait out the emergency? If you were not at home when an emergency occurred, or were unable to get home for some reason, have you made arrangements with someone who would be able to get to and care for your pets? These are all questions you need to answer before an emergency or disaster happens!

When you hear the word disaster or emergency, you may immediately think about the kind of natural disasters you see on TV, like tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and major flooding. But emergencies that may require evacuation, that may prevent you from getting home, or that may strand you inside your home, aren’t just limited to big natural disasters. Think about what you and your pets would do if:

  •  A construction crew digging in the area ruptures a large gas line, or a train carrying a toxic substance derails on nearby tracks, and your neighborhood must immediately be evacuated;
  •  There’s an explosion in a nearby gas well, factory, or power plant and the Fire Dept. comes knocking at your door and orders you to leave;
  • A sudden storm hits while you are at work, flooding and closing roads, and making it impossible for you to get home to let your dog out, feed the cats, or give them needed medication;
  • A major snow/ice storm hits, knocking out power, and making the roads impassible. It may be days before power is restored or you can leave your home.

Make your plan ahead of time

If you had to evacuate with your pets, shelter at home for some period, or provide for your pet’s safety and care in your absence, do you have a plan in place?

cat with tag

Karen's cat Maddie.

The following recommendations and guidelines are intended to help pet parents prepare for an emergency or disaster so that if/when one occurs, you can greatly increase your pet’s chances of survival:

Arrange with a trusted neighbor, nearby friend, or family member to be responsible for your pet in case you are not home, or are not able to get home. Make sure they have the key to your house and are familiar with and comfortable with your pets. If evacuation is necessary, ensure that they are willing to take your pets, know the location of your pet carriers, crates, leashes, etc., as well as your pet emergency “go-kit.” Pre-arrange how/where you would meet, and exchange emergency contact information, including places where your pets would be welcome and could be temporarily sheltered .

Since evacuation shelters for people generally do not accept pets (except for service animals), you must plan ahead to make sure you know where your pets would have a safe place to stay once evacuated. While state and local governments are required to include companion animals in their emergency plans, that does not mean that any shelter provided for pets will be with or even near the human shelters. Could a friend or family member a safe distance away take in you and your pets? Research, locate, and make a list of any pet friendly hotels where you and your pets could go. In an emergency, some hotels which do not normally allow pets will waive their “no pets” policy, but you need to find that out ahead of time. Include on your list any boarding facilities, kennels, animal shelters, or veterinary offices/hospitals which could provide temporary shelter for your pets.

Make sure that your pet is wearing up-to-date identification information at all times. This includes listing not just your home phone number on their tag, but also your cell phone number, or even the number of a friend or relative outside of your area. If your pet were to become lost, you want to make sure that the contact number on their tag will be answered even if you are not at home.

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Feeding the Birds

black cats by window

We fed the birds, now where are they?

“Okay, we fed the birds, now where are they?”

All the black cats helped me to fill the summer feeders that provide their Cat TV every day. Then, they waited.

Disappointed that their feathered friends didn’t come running when they heard the bird seed landing in the feeder, they set about looking around the room. I told them to be patient because the birds always show up. Eventually they did, but everyone was napping by then.

Smart birds.


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


Birds?! Attract them with homemade suet cakes

woodpecker and wren at feeder

Ms. Wren had better watch her step

My yard is a registered Backyard Wildlife Habitat, deemed so by the National Wildlife Federation. Among other requirements, 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.

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.

Suet cakes, or something like them, are an important part of the diet for insect-eating wild birds because it provides them with appropriate protein. It also provides a medium for mixing in other goodies like nuts and dried fruit and flavoring it with peanut butter or fruit juice.

Yes, I like to spoil my avian visitors–and save a little money in the process, plus use materials that would otherwise be composted or discarded.

woodpecker and wren at suet cake

Bird Breakfast

When suet cakes go on sale at my local Agway, I stock up, but at other times I put together a dozen suet cakes for about 50 cents each. The goodies I add are fresh or dried apple peelings from pies I’ve made for the holidays, older somewhat tired oranges, other fruits that are past their prime, and the leftovers from making pies and jellies in the summer. I have several mulberry trees and collect crabapples from trees near one of my municipal gardens, and I make jelly with these, as well as baking with the crabapples. As each fruit comes into season–raspberries, blackberries, peaches, plums–I bake or jelly with it, or save the less-than-perfect ones to dry for later use. Birds LOVE these fruit treats in mid-winter. And when I find peanut butter on sale and stand there trying to decide if my birds would prefer smooth or crunchy, I know I’m really in deep.
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