The terms 'wildlife habitat' and 'creation stewardship' sometime conjure up images of wolf packs roaming our cities, endangered species protected from predation in an expansive enclosure, or a ranch where 'throw-away' orangutans now live out their days. Wrong! The fact is that you probably have a natural wildlife habitat in your back (or front) yard, without having lifted a finger to create it! But in doing so - and letting it thrive - you're honoring your small part of what God made for our sustenance, and that of our animal brethren with which we share this earth.
(And fyi, 'it' all belongs to God anyway; this is all borrowed from Creator, so we're simultaneously blessed by and responsible for this precious but oft-fragile gift.)
A wildlife habitat can be a space as small as your stove-top, or dining table. Essentially, its an area where critters can eat, drink and be merry. All you really need is this: a source of water, a source of food, protection from predators (both human and animal) and a nesting/birthing area.
The water source can be a birdbath nearby, a creek running through the back woods, a natural or manmade pond or even a hole in the ground lined with plastic, for rainwater collection.
The food source could be berries from a nearby nandina bush,pokeweed or cedar trees, nectar from bee balm, butterfly bush, native lantana, coreopsis, etc., seeds from morning glories, crepe myrtles, millet and sunflower plants, corn, daylily pods, or even your own birdfeeder and suet.
The protective cover can be a birdhouse placed at species-specific height or an overgrown bush that a rabbit family can bunker down in for a winter and protective warren. Yes of course a snake could get into a nest, burrow or other structure to eat the babes, but that is the natural order of things. Our place is to provide what we can, in order to help the critters propagate (which in turn gives us great delight, especially if the placement is near a window or porch!) You might be surprised at how many small animals visit even the tiniest habitat.
So look around your yard: is there a fenceline that constantly needs weeding, and has canna lilies growing from your neighbor's side onto yours? Perfect! Is there some scrub-oak or sweet gum that you could put a few cedar brances around, then strew leaves/pine needles over for cover? Is there perhaps a 10x10 ft. area in the back yard that you wouldn't mind leaving natural (ie not mowing) throughout the year? Terrific! Do you already have a rocky path or area you'd be willing to put a thatch of mint, clover and perhaps a native bush/shrub around? Great! Then all you have to do is put a plastic or glass dish or aluminum pan destined for the landfill, in the area with a rock or two inside the dish, and keep water in it. (Birds love rocky places, especially after it rains b/c the worms come to the surface - yum!)
Going 'native' with your plant selection needn't be difficult or heart-wrenching. Call your local Dept. of Agriculture - or better yet, see what they plant along the roads and highways in your state - and discover the beauty of species native to your area, and weather-hardy. I always go with perennials, b/c they don't require re-planting or any care at all; in fact that's another benefit to having a camellia in NC rather than one in southern Florida which will need more shade and more frequent watering, and perhaps pH adjustment of the soil. Another benefit from using native flora: it attract native insects, which feast on them, lay larvae/eggs on them, and the next spring you'll be awed at the abundant birds and other wildlife attracted to those insects.
Yet another way you can be a good steward of creation and help protect and attract birds and various reptiles, insects, butterflies and so on, is to restrain yourself from mowing as frequently (which also saves gas, cuts down on noise pollution, and allows the 'good' weeds which prime the food chain pump, to survive) and cut down on the use of pesticides and herbicides. These not only kill larvae and other newly-birthed creatures, the also end up in our landfills and sewer lines, our wells and eventually, our bodies.
Sure we all like a neat lawn, and some local regulations and home owner associations have guidelines for yards and grass height, but talking to people about the need to provide natural habitats for wildlife, as we expand exponentially with our schools, shopping malls and fast food joints, can go a long way toward helping people see the beauty in 'natural.' (There's also less to mow, which most of us appreciate!)
In South Carolina, many communities are moving toward habitat restoration and adding greenspaces. Ugly, messy, unkempt? No, not at all! Take a guided visual tour through Callawassee Island, a gated community near Beaufort SC and you'll see multi-million dollar homes with large (and lovely) natural areas!
So whether you have a small patio or a large acreage, discover the wonder of having more diverse natives animals return each year. Friends often come to my house simply to watch the goldfinches, juncos, bluebirds, hummingbirds and the 60+ cardinals that call my place 'home.' Some migrate, of course, but those return each year with even more pals. There is something so essentially divine in being still with God, fully in Him and what He created. It's quite conducive to meditation and prayer, thougtFULLness, bible study or simple meditation.
This past summer I had over 17 pairs of mating ruby-throated hummingbirds, and they thrived on nothing more than the native flowers and wild volunteer vines I've planted especially for them. No hummingbird feeders, or water/sugar mixes necessary! And I keep shallow bowls of water, pieces of fruit - esp bananas - and mud mixture, with a few rocks, near the butterfly bush and frequently have to get out my field guide to these fascinating creatures to identify them. I plant red clover for the bees every year, to help counter the effects of 'colony collapse disorder' and its a sea of fuschia, with the busy guests staying close by; I've yet to be stung. The woodpeckers abound here; they're everywhere and in all sizes, makes and models. Even a red-tailed hawk lives at the top of an old cedar in the back woods, her wingspan casting shadows over me as i kneel in the tall fescue grass.
In the late afternoons, the cardinals and wrens come out to cluster in the rocky driveway, foraging seeds and anything else they find (I suspect many of the chameleons from the coneflower and verbena beds have been fodder for them!) The flaming-red beauties fall silent only with night, at which time i see lightning bugs, hear spring peepers and bullfrogs, and the bunnies scamper, burrowing in for the night - all on my meager acre.
I pick some lettuce and spinach, perhaps a tomato or two, some corn the aquirrels and I both vie for, a few carrots and mix it into a salad with a fresh slice of bread, and sit at the picnic table near the bird feeder, watching stars stuggle for visibility. Something rustles in the woods outside the fence - probably a deer scrounging succulent corn I plant at the forest's edge, just for them. I know I'm not only fueling my body with high-octane stuff, I'm honored to be helping struggling animal populations to survive. Big, goofy Tim-bo dog rushes to defend me and the bluejays crackle and mock him before turning in for the night; they've learned he stays within the fenceline. I dine while watching these co-existing and oft-eccentric birds, smiling inside because yes, I'm learning to be a good steward of this place that for now, I call 'home' and my return on this investment is pure gold.
And hey, it sure beats a pizza and a movie any day!
There are days when I forget to fill the feeders (the chickadees will scold me as a reminder) or put fresh water in the birdbaths, but not a day goes by that I don't bow to The Creator of all life, and thank him reverently and with huge gratitude for the multitude of nature He's allowed me to borrow, nurture and care for and enjoy. Amen.
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