Start a Chain Reaction!
Now you have a good idea of what you can do to improve wildlife habitat in your immediate area. Wouldn't it be great if neighbouring communities followed your lead? Maybe your initiative would start a chain reaction that would make a world of difference for wildlife! Let's see if we can get every community in your region involved!
Please Don't Mow
Many municipalities mow roadsides in June and again in August. But early mowing during the breeding season of ground-nesting birds often destroys nests.
Prepare a fact-sheet on the perils of early mowing. It should list the types of wildlife affected, their breeding times, and their habitat requirements. Then offer alternatives. If mowing can't be eliminated, for example, why not delay it until late fall? By then, the birds will have finished rearing their young and will be able to find food and cover elsewhere.
Send a sample of your "Please Don’t Mow" campaign and its results to schools in your area, province, or territory. Invite them to start similar campaigns!
Make a Special Arrangement
Wild animals like diverse arrangements of vegetation that suit their particular needs. The following are some examples of habitat arrangements that will provide maximum benefits for wildlife. Once you've found a site, organize a planting day and invite other communities to join you!
- Brush Piles: brush piles (heaps of undergrowth) provide cover for small birds or mammals seeking shelter from the weather or predators. Some species, such as ground-nesting birds or small reptiles, may even make nests or dens in them. Brush piles are easy to make — you don't need special materials! Although it depends on the amount of existing cover, two to 10 brush piles per hectare should be adequate.
- Clumps and Thickets: Clumps (clusters of trees) and thickets (dense shrubby areas) provide a good edge for wildlife. (An edge is where two types of plant communities meet.) Replace any dead or dying plants and trim branches to encourage animals to feed and dense cover to grow. Prickly plants such as red raspberry, for example, make excellent hiding places for rabbits, squirrels, and ground hogs.
- Hedgerows: Why not design a hedgerow — a row of thick, bushy plants — for your school or a nearby senior citizens' residence? Consult a local nursery about the types of plants that will grow well in your area. What wildlife will benefit from them? How?
- Fence Rows: Planting vegetation or letting it grow alongside a fence row will help attract wildlife. Ask an expert what type of plant will grow best in your area. Construct a few brush piles or put some nest boxes along the fence for even more diversity.
- Windbreaks and Shelterbelts: Windbreaks are giant hedges made of trees and shrubs. Many farmers use them to protect their buildings, livestock, gardens, or orchards. Planted in fields, they prevent soil from drying out and blowing away. They also provide wildlife with food and cover and act as important travel lanes. A large windbreak is called a shelterbelt.
Find a spot that you think would benefit from a windbreak. Consult local agriculture and wildlife experts about the best species to plant in your area.
Plant a Wildlife Food Plot
Food plots can benefit wildlife, especially in the fall and winter, when animals have the most trouble finding something to eat. And they make great nesting and resting cover too!
Food plots should be planted near hedgerows, shrubby fence rows, brush piles, clumps, or thickets. You might be able to plant one in your schoolyard. Or you could ask your municipality about a possible site and organize a community food plot planting day! You could also call on your senior citizen friends again. Maybe they have a patch of land on their property that would make an ideal food plot and wildlife viewing area.
You'll need some outside help to prepare your site, as this project will require a Rototiller. Consult a local biologist or farmer for information on what will grow in your area and soil type. Keep in mind that this project will require a lot of maintenance.
When deciding what crops to plant, consider the type of wildlife you want to attract or maintain. For example, a variety of songbirds will eat corn, sorghum, and oats, while deer will feast on rye. Buckwheat, soybeans, and sunflowers are other good choices. Here are some planting tips:
- Plant manageable plots of about .05 to .5 hectares.
- Plant them in narrow strips three to nine metres wide.
- On the north and east sides, shelter them with natural features that will prevent snow from drifting on to them.
Adopt an Abandoned Farmstead
Parcels of untended land next to deserted farmsteads make great habitat for small birds and mammals. Crop land that has recently been put out of production can be improved by seeding it. Older fields can be improved by planting clumps, thickets, or fruit-bearing bushes such as buffalo-berry or Saskatoon-berry.
Leave a Litter of Leaves
Many people rake up leaves that collect under trees and shrubs and near fences. But leaving some leaf litter actually helps keep the ground moist, which is good for trees and shrubs. It also provides better habitat for insects, which in turn means a better food supply for insect-eating birds! Robins have a particularly difficult time finding meals in the hot summer months. If the ground is dry and cracked, earthworms — their favourite food — dig deeper down, making it harder for the birds to reach them.
Grow Your Own Hedgerow
Did you know that hedgerows often form in farmers' fields from seeds contained in bird droppings? You could get some feathered friends to create a hedgerow in your schoolyard!
Dig up a plot of earth five to 10 metres long by one metre wide. Put a stake at each end and attach a string or a narrow piece of wood for the birds to perch on. Keep a record of all the birds that use the perch, as well as a list of all the plant species that grow underneath.
Your hedgerow will take a while to mature. But won't it be rewarding to watch what grows? Meanwhile, you'll be helping to initiate a plant community. And you'll be providing useful habitat and a travel lane for wildlife! (A travel lane is a border that provides animals with shelter, an escape route, and a place to nest and rest.)
Make Mourning Doves Welcome
Mourning doves generally build nests from loose, flimsy platforms of twigs that are easily destroyed by heavy winds and rains. But you can improve the survival rate of their young by building a wire cone nest. It's easy! Just make sure before you start that mourning doves do indeed live and breed in your area.
Monitor your nest to ensure that it remains secure. Keep it clear of brushy limb growth and clean out old nest material each year.
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