Going Native

Arctostaphylos x coloradensis_Mock Bearberry Manzanita_CarnegieLib-CoSpgsCO_LAH_9993

We hear that it’s better to choose native plants over exotics for a variety of reasons. They’re perfectly adapted to the soils and climate. They host native insects that provide food for birds and other wildlife. They fit into the landscape, providing a “sense of place” that exotics can never match. But what is a native plant?

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Maximizing “Birdy-ness”

Great habitat—but no birds!
Great habitat—but no birds!

“Oh, that’s a great place to go birding—they were everywhere! We had such a long species list and I even got a lifer!”

“Really? We’ve been there and we didn’t see anything—just one House Finch and a Northern Flicker. It was so disappointing!”

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IPM: Pest-eating Vertebrates, Part 1

Eastern Collared Lizard_DesertMuseum-AZ_LAH_4796Here it is the middle of winter, and garden pests are out of sight and out of mind. Yet, we know that those critters are out there, waiting for warm weather to bring out the first sprouts of spring—just so they can gobble them up! It’s a very good thing, then, that there are other creatures biding their time, waiting to eat those garden pests! I’ve already talked about bug-eating invertebrates. This time I’ll focus on those animals with some backbone, so to speak. Being biologically minded, I’ve sorted these helpful vertebrates by which taxonomic class they belong to.

Amphibians
Toad_ColoNat'lMon-CO_LAH_3622One of the most helpful animals to welcome into your garden is a toad. Like frogs and salamanders, their close relatives, toads eat tons of bugs, and they don’t need a pond to live in. Experts say they eat up to 100 bugs every day, and while they don’t discriminate between “good” bugs and bad ones (they’ll nab anything that moves), it’s nice to see cutworms, grasshoppers, flies, and slugs disappearing into their wide jaws.

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The Return of the Swainson’s Hawks

swainsons-hawk_lakepueblosp_lah_4891

It’s time for the changing of the guard. Rough-legged Hawks are on their way to the northern edge of the continent to breed and raise their young in the 24-hour summer sunshine. At the same time, Swainson’s Hawks are on their way back from Argentina in search of an endless summer.

Swainson’s Hawks were the first hawks I learned to identify as a fledgling birder. The dark-dark-light pattern of perched birds is easy to remember—dark head and chest, white belly. Plus, the russet cowl is distinctive. Smaller than other Colorado Buteos, their tiny feet allow them to perch on wires whereas other Buteos prefer trees and telephone poles. A friend described the white over their beak as their “searchlight” and the mnemonic stuck. And finally, no other American hawk has pale coverts with dark flight feathers. A soaring bird is instantly recognizable.

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A Welcome Mat for Bluebirds

Western Bluebird_2524f-001Everyone loves bluebirds, and for good reason. They are beautiful to look at, faithfully provide for their families, and eat thousands of insects that might otherwise damage our gardens. However, a lack of nest sites for these cavity-nesting birds has caused a serious decline in their numbers. If you, like me, would love to have a pair of bluebirds sharing your yard, it helps to know a little about what the birds prefer. How can you make your yard more bluebird-friendly?

Bluebirds prefer to live in trees next to open fields. They perch and nest in the trees, and search for insects in the grass nearby. You can find Eastern and Western Bluebirds in orchards or forests next to meadows, farm fields, or grasslands.

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Preserve Wetlands—Buy a Duck Stamp!

2003 CO Duck Stamp c Cynthie FisherThe purchase of a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, more simply known as a “Duck Stamp,” is one of the best ways you can promote wetlands conservation. Since its inception in 1934 as a federal license for hunting migratory waterfowl, this program has generated over $670,000,000 that has been used to purchase or lease 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat that is now included in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The stamps are only $15, and 98% of that is used for habitat preservation! With a decline in the number of hunters, it is more important than ever that conservationists, and especially birders, purchase Duck Stamps. As a bonus, having the current year’s stamp allows you free access to any National Wildlife Refuge, many of which now charge admission fees.

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A Garden for the Birds

The following article was first published by the Colorado Springs Gazette on March 21, 2009:

broadtail-hummingbird-keystone-20may07-lah-837rA brightly colored hummingbird zooms past on its way to a feeder. A finch fills the air with music. Birds provide us with hours of entertainment. How can you welcome more wild birds into your yard?

Like other animals, birds have a basic need for five essential elements: water, food, shelter, safety from predators, and a place to raise their young. While it’s fun to provide bird houses and feeders full of seed, you can design your landscape to offer these necessities and truly give yourself a yard for the birds.

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