Preserving Native Habitats in Louisiana
Footprints in the Sand
Giving Back to Nature by Protecting Native Flora and Fauna
Scientists from all over the world, like Douglas Tallamy the author of Bringing Nature Home, are advocating using native plants in sustainable, ecologically balanced gardens in suburban and urban yards to help bring back the beneficial insects that are so necessary for a healthy planet. We have put together some tips to help you create your own backyard wildlife habitat that will provide a haven for you and our precious wildlife.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana was blessed with an abundance of native plants and animals, but in August, 2005, the storm damage and the building boom that followed destroyed thousands of acres of precious natural habitat. Today many concerned individuals and organizations in South Louisiana and all over the United States are trying to preserve and replant natural areas. We can do it, if we all try by rebuilding one habitat at a time.
Bumblebee Visits Louisiana Iris
Natural Habitat is Important
Habitat, Habitat, Habitat.... If you plant it, they will come. To attract wildlife to your garden you must provide the 3 major requirements for the survival of any creature:
Food - in the form of plants (nectar, berry, and nut producing) and/or feeders.
Shelter/Cover/Nesting Sites - Evergreens are especially important for wintering Hummingbirds and natives are preferred nesting sites. Nest boxes can also be a pleasing addition to the garden or dead trees and limbs can be left standing.
Water - from a large pond to a birdbath, but dripping or moving water is most appealing.
Our property is a registered National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat (number 21325). We do everything possible to keep it natural and wild since natural wildlife habitats in the area are being destroyed at such a rapid pace. You don't have to have a large piece of property, even a small backyard can become a sanctuary for wild creatures.
Food can be provided in a number of ways. In our habitat we plant many low maintenance native and old-fashioned plants that provide nectar, berries, fruit and nuts while also sustaining insects, another source of food. We also supplement the natural diet with a number of different feeders.
Here are some of the creatures favorites:
Nectar Producing for Hummingbirds and Butterflies - Salvias, Indian Pink (Spigellia marilandica), Coral Honeysuckle (Lonceria sempervirens), Black-eyed Susan family (Rudbeckia spp.), Coreopsis, Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.). Learn more pollinator plants at Hummingbird Gardening and Gardening to Attract and Sustain Butterflies.
Berries, Fruit and Nuts - Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus floridia), Black Cherry ( Prunus serotina), Huckleberry and Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), Oak, Pecan and Hickory to name a few.
Sugar Water - Make your own mixture, using white, granulated sugar at 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (ex. 1 cup of water to 1/4 cup of sugar). No boiling is required, just mix until the sugar is dissolved. Store extra in the refrigerator. Soak the feeders in a mild bleach solution for an hour when they look moldy. Don't soak too long or the plastic and metal parts will become corroded.
Seed - We feed Sunflower, cracked and whole corn (mostly for the birds) and Golden Nuggets (for the mammals).
We make our own suet. A wide variety of birds visit our suet feeder. We put it out year-round, so we make a "no-melt" kind that can take the summer heat.
Here's the recipe:
Home Made Suet
2 cups (1 block) of LARD (animal fat)
1 cup CRUNCHY Peanut butter (cheap kind)
1 cup of Oatmeal
1 cup of unbleached flour
1 cup of cornmeal or wheat germ
Melt the lard a little in a big glass bowl (30 sec. in the microwave) and mix all of the ingredients together. It gets messy so let the kids get involved, they'll love it! Line a rectangular pan with a sheet of wax paper and press the mixture in. Pop it in the freezer for an hour or so, then cut it into blocks. We find that smaller ones (4" x 2") work best because the birds eat it before it can mildew in the hot, humid weather. Store the blocks in a ziploc bag in the freezer and refill your suet feeder as needed.
The wonderfully narrated video explains how to attract and sustain winter birds.
Attracting Birds to Your Yard in Winter
Mealworms for the Bluebirds
Mealworms are the larval form of the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor, a species of darkling beetle. The darkling beetle goes through four life-stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Larvae typically measure about 2.5cm or more, whereas adults are generally between 1.25 and 1.8cm in length.
Mealworms are used as a food source for reptile and avian pets. They are also put out for wild birds in bird feeders, particularly during the nesting season when birds are raising their young. They can be purchased at most pet stores and are also available via mail order and the internet. Mealworms are usually sold in a container with bran or oatmeal for food. Mealworm feeders are available on-line or you can make your own. Mealworms are easy to raise and many lessons can be learned during the process.
Prothonotary Warbler Dances on His House Top
Shelter and Nesting Sites
A variety of tall and understory, mostly native, trees and shrubs will provide places for the birds to seek shelter. Evergreens are especially good for winter shelter during cold weather. These trees and shrubs will also be used by most birds during the nesting season. But all birds and animals do not nest in shrubs and the branches of trees. Many either drill out a cavity in a rotten area of a tree or use one that another bird made. So we leave as many dead trees up as we can. We only take them down if they endanger structures or automobiles. Many of the cavity nesting birds will also use man-made nest boxes, so we maintain a nest box trail of about 30 nest boxes of various sizes that are used by a variety of birds on our property.
A source of water is extremely important in a backyard habitat. Dripping or running water is best, but a bird bath will do. Today there are a variety of water features that you can add to your garden. There are even solar powered pumps and some charge batteries so that they run, even when the sun is down. Misters are great for the birds, too. In fact ours flock to any area that we are watering to take advantage of the sprinkler.
Red Buckeye by the Pond
Slider Turtle Laying Eggs
Book Review and Commentary - Bringing Nature Home
Wilson enlightened us many years ago, as to the importance of insects in the whole scheme of things with his infamous quote:
"If humans were to disappear, the effects on the insect world would be minimal. It's unlikely a single insect species would go extinct except three forms of body and head lice. (Close relatives of the parasites could still live on gorillas.) The complex web of life would continue "minus all the species we have pushed into extinction." But if insects were to disappear, Wilson speaks of "an ecological dark age" where "the survivors would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs."
Tiger Swallowtail in Flame Azalea
Sulfur Butterfly on Turk's Cap
Now Douglas Tallamy gives us a possible solution to the ever spiraling path to destruction of the food chain that our society is moving towards, as subdivision after subdivision bulldozes our precious and crucial native plants only to replant them with inedible, unsuitable and hard to grow alien plants. According to Tallamy, "If we want to create ecosystems with diversity of animal species, we first have to encourage a healthy diversity of plants. ...I can not over emphasize how important insect herbivores are to the health of all terrestrial ecosystems." Typical subdivision monocultures of exotic turf grass, box hedges, lollipop trees and a few annuals from the big chain store will not provide food and shelter for the most important of the layers of the food chain, the Insects.
He goes on to say, "Because it is we who decide what plants will grow in our gardens, the responsibility for our nation's biodiversity lies largely with us." While many people talk about the good old days, when a kid could go outside and catch a whole jar full of Lightening Bugs in a few minutes and they mourn the loss of the birds and butterflies they continue to cut down the native trees, shrubs and wildflowers that support these wondrous creatures, only to replace them with alien species that are usually not suitable for our climate or our wildlife.
Salvia coccinea with Hoover Fly
According to Tallamy, "We need to restore the ecological integrity of suburbia in order to prevent the extinction of most of our plants and animals." The news media continues to talk about the destruction of the rain forests, and this is something that we should be concerned about. However, it is interesting to note that only 15% of the Amazonian forests have been logged, where here in the U.S. 70% of the forests along the Eastern Seaboard are gone. What we have done as a nation is fragmented suitable habitat where wildlife can thrive, thus forming habitat islands. Science has shown that habitat islands have high rates of species extinction.
Along with these problems come, what he considers the number one problem for biodiversity, paving with impervious surfaces. The second most serious blow against biodiversity is our love affair with sterile lawns. All over the world, 12% of bird species are being threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. We have taken their homes, their food and filled the world with dangerous obstacles like highways and high rise buildings filled with glass windows, to mention a few.
Hummingbird Moth and Monarda fistulosa
But Tallamy says that all is not lost if we act NOW, before masses of species are extinct. Humans can live in harmony with a variety of plant and animal species and must start to design living spaces that will accommodate both humans and wildlife in a functioning sustainable ecosystem that supports biodiversity.
Because humans have already impacted nature on almost every place on the planet, we must discard the idea of "pristine nature" and go forth with a program of "reconciliation ecology" (Michael Rosenzweig, 2003) to redesign human habitats to accommodate other species. By replacing exotic turf lawns and alien plants with food producing, insect / wildlife friendly native plants in our suburban yards we can take a giant step towards preventing the catastrophic blow to our food supply that the failure of animal pollinated fruits and vegetables would cause.
Copper Louisiana Iris (I. fulva)
Bringing Nature Home contains several excellent chapters that guide the reader through the process of replacing alien species with native plants including, Creating Balanced Communities, Gardening for Insect Diversity and What Should I Plant? But my favorite chapter is, What Does Bird Food Look Like? This contains beautiful, color photographs with descriptions of many of the important insects that are vital to bird survival. Appendices include: Native Plants with Wildlife Value and Desirable Landscaping Attributes, Host Plants of Butterflies and Showy Moths and Experimental Evidence.
Even though the book is written from a "northern" perspective, some southern flora and fauna are also covered. The message of this book can not be ignored. We must act now to save the insects and to save the Earth.
Biodiversity is the Key
All organisms are important, from the bacteria and fungi which break down the soil to the largest plants and animals. Each has it's link in the food chain.
Anole in Goldenrod
Bring Your Soil Back to Life
A regular compost pile provides rich soil for the garden while providing the birds with insects and some earthworms to eat, but vermi-composting goes a step further by providing rich worm castings and many, many earthworms to till your garden and provide food for the creatures in your habitat.
Compost tea is filled with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients. It is great to use when transplanting starter plants and fertilizing vegetables and herbs. Use it and your soil will be alive again.
Make Compost Tea
Louisiana Flora and Fauna for the Children's Corner
Bringing nature home and preserving native flora and fauna can be a family affair, full of learning opportunities. Children are our future. If they learn about ecosystems and biodiversity when they are young, they will be able to make intelligent decisions when they are older. Here are some great native plant and animal books for the little ones.
A Favorite Quote
Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.
Motto of the Baltimore Grotto
A Bugs Life Begins
© 2008 Yvonne L B