The Heart of New England
Creating a Backyard
Wildlife Habitat...in the Wilds of Vermont
By Linda K. Schneider

Success! Mama wild turkey has nested in the backyard and now she is bringing
her little ones out to feed in the freshly cut grass. What a joy it is and a privilege
to see this young mother with her brood, up close and personal. Dream Come
True Farm in Hartland, Vermont is Habitat #33885, part of 60,000 backyards,
large and small, that have been certified by the National Wildlife Federation's
Backyard Wildlife Habitat program.

At first the thought of joining this program seemed silly; after all I live in
Vermont for heaven’s sake! The wild animals are everywhere in Vermont. But
as development fast becomes a reality, habitat for wildlife is shrinking. These
animals are going to have to adapt to the development and accept it, just like
people must learn to do. What choice do we have? Move? Relocate to where:
Wyoming? I’m not ready to give up Vermont just yet!

The large tracts of undisturbed land for the antelope to roam just don’t exist
anymore; someone has put a house there. Have you noticed lately, houses seem
to be built in places we didn’t think they would or could? Small, welcoming
backyard wildlife habitats might be a worthwhile answer to this problem.

Mine started by planting trees, shrubs and perennials for the birds, called
“birdscaping”. The rule is to mimic nature, tall trees in the back, medium sized
shrubs, and finally small perennials down in front. It grew from there to add
wildlife, with just a few additions. As the grapes ripen, it is a race to see who
will eat them first, the ermine or us.

The American Cranberry bushes bring the waxwings, ruffled grouse, wild
turkey and occasionally deer. Not conventional foundation plantings, my
American Cranberry bushes are probably placed a little too close to the house
by most people’s standards. However, I beg to differ, in the spring when flocks
of birds show up at my windows. The berries have stayed on all winter,
freezing and thawing and refreezing. This process must ferment the berries and
add flavor!

Viewing can take place from the first and second story windows. While the
ruffled grouse hang out close to the ground to feel safe in this shelter, the small
song birds head to the top of this twelve foot high bush to feed.

Recipe for Success

Supply the four main ingredients and wildlife will come to live in YOUR
backyard too (and once you have all the right ingredients go to the NWF's
Backyard Wildlife Habitat site and apply for certification):

1. Water
2. Food
3. Shelter/cover
4. Nesting materials

Directions: Grow native plants for food and shelter. Add water. Stir in a few
plants as nesting materials. Don’t be too neat, leave a brush pile as a hiding
place. Watch what will show up when you supply the right ingredients!

To elaborate on this recipe,
food sources should be native species of plants
grown for the native birds. They know what to do with these plants. Native
birds have been surviving on these food sources for centuries. (Serviceberry,
Pine, Oaks, Sumac, Elderberry) Keep invasive plants out of your yard. Rose
Paul from The Vermont Nature Conservancy says, “Invasive species like
Buckthorn are ‘junk food’ for the birds. There is little or no nutritional value in
these plants.” Invasive species strangle out the native plants.

Hedgerows provide
shelter. Leave the brush pile in the backyard. Small
animals will hide and possibly nest in this pile.

Water must be available at all times. Bird baths will work. Moving water is
preferred, such as ponds and streams.

Provide
nesting materials for birds and animals. Plant a willow tree and thistles
as nesting materials. The American Goldfinch waits until the thistles have gone
to seed before she builds her nest. The Hummingbirds use willow-down to line
their nests. Remember to keep your pet cat indoors. While she loves the song
birds as much as you do, she loves them as dinner!

Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and your local Conservation District
can help with more information about these programs. To order a $3.00 book
titled; Backyard Wildlife Habitat in Vermont, call 802-241-3700.

To get on the mailing list for Habitat Highlights Newsletter call 802-241-1454.  
When you plant for the birds and wildlife, the rewards are yours to enjoy on a
daily basis. Visits from creatures great and small, feathered and scaled, antlered
and… you get the picture.

About the author Linda Schneider is the District Manager at Ottauquechee Natural
Resources Conservation District located in White River Junction, Vermont. This District
covers 18 towns in Windsor County and one in Rutland County.
National Wildlife Federation's Backard Wildlife Habitat
The Heart of New England
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