Dare to be Diverse!
Take a stroll around your schoolyard or the area you want to improve for wildlife. Now that you know the importance of diversity to wildlife, you can drum up habitat improvement ideas that appeal to a maximum number of wild species. Here's a checklist to make sure you haven't forgotten anything important:
- Remember to arrange your vegetation so that it looks casual (even messy!) rather than too tidy.
- Vary the size and height of plants to ensure vertical diversity. Include a wide variety of trees, shrubs, legumes, native flowers, and grasses.
- Don't forget the seasons. Offer plants that will shelter or feed wildlife all through the year.
- Create structural diversity using nest boxes, feeders, bird baths, and piles of logs, brush, and rocks.
- Create several different habitats such as wildflower beds, clumps of shrubs, watery spots, trees, open spaces, and tangles of brambles and vines.
When we plan a wildlife refuge, we often neglect unpopular creatures such as bees, spiders, and wasps. We have a habit of either gassing these pests with bug spray or pounding the life out of them with rolled-up newspapers.
We now understand what harm pesticides and other poisons do to the planet, But do we really want to buddy up with a bunch of bugs and invite them into our wildlife sanctuary or garden...? Of course we do!
Don't forget — the bugs we dislike for bothering us and destroying plants, crops, and forests, are actually mouth-watering treats for many other insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and even carnivorous plants. There are lots of insects we can lure into our gardens that will prey on the pests we all love to hate. Think of them as tiny commando troops!
Did you know that in Canada there are now several companies that raise and sell predatory bugs (such as Ladybird Beetles, which prey on aphids) in bulk to gardeners and growers? ("I'll take two kilos of lady-bugs, please.")
Your garden will attract three general types of insects:
- plant eaters, such as aphids and butterfly caterpillars;
- nectar feeders, such as butterflies, bees, and wasps; and
- insects that prey on other insects, such as Praying Mantises, wasps, and robber flies.
In order to attract the right insects, you should provide a menu of plants to tempt their taste buds. Milkweed, for instance, is the only kind of plant that provides food for Monarch Butterfly larvae and milkweed bugs. Many species of solitary bees collect pollen only from sunflowers.
Offering a variety of plants and wild flowers is important for your insect garden. Native goldenrods, milkweeds, sunflowers, and legumes will make a great start. Be sure to include at least four or five plants of each species.
Many insects will be thankful if you provide Dill, parsley, Fennel, Queen Anne's Lace, daisies, and yarrow. Flowering herbs like sage, thyme, Catnip, and lavender will attract predatory bugs. So will weeds like Wild Mustard, dandelion, Lamb's-Quarters, and nettle.
Once word gets out through the insect grapevine, all kinds of bugs will start coming.
It's true — some of them will be munching away at your garden. (That's why it's a good idea to plant more than one of each species.) But don't panic. The plant feeders will attract predators such as Praying Mantises and Ladybird Beetles. Just let them get on with their job. You can bet that the predators will keep the plant feeders under control.
Pamper a pollinator
Habitat loss and pollution are causing bees and butterflies across Canada to slowly disappear. The loss of these busy pollinators puts some major food crops and flowers in danger too. Many plant species count on bees and butterflies to carry pollen from bloom to bloom. Then the fertilized plants can produce fruit, berries, seeds, or nuts. You can create a pollinator's banquet for insects by planting their favourite wild flowers. Examples include milkweed, goldenrod, phlox, Queen Anne's Lace, Common Thistle, Black-eyed Susan, and asters. Check your wild-flower guide for a variety of species that will bloom from early spring till first frost. Make sure the plants are suited to your region, and check with your area bylaws inspector to see that none of the plants are classified as noxious weeds.
Did you know that the bumblebee is the chief pollinator of the endangered Furbish's Lousewort? This yellow-flowered species grows in only one area on the whole planet: along the banks of the upper St. John River in New Brunswick and Maine. Changes, such as dam flooding, tree cutting, or a shortage of bumblebees, could wipe out this species. In 1980, it was the first plant to be listed as endangered in Canada by COSEWIC. We can help conserve Furbish's Lousewort by protecting its particular habitat — and the bumblebee that pollinates this unique plant.
Help refuel shorebirds
Millions of shorebirds migrate between Canadian Arctic breeding grounds and far-away winter homes in South America. Their survival depends on a number of critical stopping and "refuelling" points along the way — mostly coastal and interior wetlands and grasslands. Each site is an important link in a chain. And all the links must be protected, since destroying even one could mean disaster for these birds.
Each migratory species follows a different corridor between its nesting and wintering range. Some species migrate singly, while others (like most large water birds) fly in flocks. Did you know that more southward migrating shorebirds stop at Mary's Point, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy than at any other spot in North America? Here they feed on a small crustacean that is found nowhere else in North America but the Bay of Fundy. After filling up, the birds are ready for the next leg of their exhausting trek — non-stop flight across the ocean to South America.
If you are interested in shorebirds, here are some tips on how you could learn more about them:
- Find out if a bird migration route passes over your community. What species follow this "flyway"?
- Mark the route between summer and winter habitats on a map.
- Learn the time of year when this particular species migrates. How many kilometres do the birds fly? Do they fly alone or in flocks?
- Find out if any species stop over for "refuelling" in your area. If so, is there a food source you could plant or provide that would help them on their long journey?
- Did you know that most birds migrate at night? With a 20x to 40x telescope or 10x binoculars, try spotting the birds silhouetted against a full moon.
Be a beach booster!
Besides supporting migratory birds, seashores are habitats for numerous species of plants and animals. When you visit these spots, please treat them with tender respect.
- If you turn a rock over, do so gently. Then put it back the way it was. Remember, you've just lifted the roof off somebody's home.
- Don't leave piles of sand or mud on the beach. Animals may burrow into these places and drift away or die when the tide comes in. Also, the piles may kill small clams or other wildlife by blocking their burrows.
- If you investigate a creature living under seaweed, always cover it up again with the wet weeds so the sun won't dry it out.
- On rocky shores, avoid crushing barnacles or other species that live on the surface. Try to walk on bare rocks or patches of sand and mud.
- Never move animals from one shore, beach, or tidal zone to another. Don't take sea creatures home with you.
- Leave seashells right where you find them. An empty one may be a hermit crab's future residence — and decent housing is so hard to find these days! If seashells are occupied, please don't disturb them, and never try to force them open.
- Remember to clean up all your trash and pick up any you may find. Garbage attracts predators that eat eggs and nestlings.
Be tender to turtles
The world's largest living turtle, the Leatherback, is found off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. With a shell as long as 2.5 metres, it can weigh up to 900 kilograms. You wouldn't think much could get in this giant's way. But, in fact, common plastic debris is causing Leatherbacks terrible trouble. They mistake plastic bags or containers for jellyfish — their favourite food. Once swallowed, the plastic clogs the turtles' intestines, causing them to die. Leatherbacks are already endangered worldwide because humans hunt the adult turtles and their eggs for food. They certainly don't need to deal with another deadly menace like plastic debris.
The tons of litter tossed thoughtlessly into our waterways cause death to many other marine species as well. Six-pack rings from beer and pop cans often strangle fish and birds. Old fishing lines, nets, kite strings, and ropes can also be deadly. When animals get tangled, the debris causes cuts and infection. Seabirds, turtles, dolphins, and seals get exhausted from trailing nets behind them. These creatures can slowly strangle, suffocate, or die from infection.
For centuries, seafarers threw their litter into the drink without a worry! But that was before indestructible plastics came along. In those days, trash was made up of natural material that decomposed with no harm to wildlife. Today, litter is an enormous ecological problem, but one we can solve so easily. In the Maritimes, a group of commercial fishermen has organized a hugely successful plan to stop ocean pollution. In the Ship to Shore Trash Campaign, fishermen now bring their garbage ashore instead of tossing it overboard. Fishing boats along the Acadian shore of New Brunswick bring ashore about 9,500 kilograms of trash every week! Do you hear the Leatherback Turtles cheering?
Here's how you can be tender to turtles and other marine wildlife:
- Don't litter, and discourage others from doing so.
- Organize a shoreline clean-up.
- Adopt a beach; once a week or month pick up all the litter you find there.
- Inform your school, family, and community about the danger of plastic and other litter to wildlife.
- Find a group in your area that is actively combating waste in waterways and join up. If there isn't such a group, why not get one started?
Long-term plans are logical
Many of the best projects to help wildlife habitat can take years to complete. When you spruce up a bare schoolyard with plants or clean up a clogged stream, nothing much may happen for quite some time. You may even graduate or move away before wildlife nests in the schoolyard or swims in the stream. Nature can't be hurried!
For wildlife's sake, be patient. You may wonder if you're making any difference. Just remember that the habitat you're helping is a complex, amazing system that is constantly changing and evolving at its own unhurried pace.
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