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Connect with Nature: Watching Wildlife

Watching wildlife is a great way to Connect with Nature.

Wildlife is around us all the time and birds are the most “watchable wildlife”. They are often the first introduction, or re-introduction

into nature for many people. Watching birds can be merely enjoyable, or it can elicit a curiosity that spans to other wildlife and other ecosystems.

Watching wildlife also has many benefits to our mental and physical health and well-being. Settling down, being still and quiet, noticing the details of the comings and goings of a species helps us by alleviating stress, slowing our mind and focusing on something that can give us a little bit of peace, even if just for a few minutes.

Creating a habitat garden and setting up bird feeding station is a perfect way to bring birds closer to our view. To create a habitat garden, keep in mind what wildlife needs. For instance,

birds, just like you, have to have certain things in order to live: comfort and safety; water; food, clean air, and space.

Late fall, winter, and early spring is the time for feeding birds. The insects and other critters they’ve depended on all summer have either completed their lifecycle, migrated, or are hibernating. So, birds have to change their diet and are looking for seeds, berries and nuts to get them through the colder months ahead.

Get started on a habitat garden by selecting a location. You don’t have to do this conversion all at once. Start with the view outside of your window. Maybe it’s the view from your kitchen table, or perhaps from the comfy chair next to the living room window, or just off your patio. Wherever you place the feeding station, make sure you can sit, watch, and keep a nature journal about what you notice.

Once you’ve found your space, think about the wildlife.

Comfort and safety for birds comes in the form of a place they can duck into if a predator comes near. Trees, shrubs, and loose brush piles make great shelters for birds. Even your discarded Christmas tree propped up on a lawn chair can make or break the use of anything else you provide for the birds.

Next is a water source where birds can get a drink and bathe to keep their feathers clean and free of mites. Just about any shallow dish can be used as a “bird bath”. Make sure the dish is no more than one to two inches deep, preferably with a sloped edge. A large saucer from a planter will work great, as will a trash can lid. Or get fancy with a large China meat platter from the thrift store. Place the “bird bath” dish on top of a bucket, on an old chair, or a couple layers of brick or concrete block. Locate it near the tree, shrub, or brush pile so the birds can duck in if there is a threat nearby.

Adding a drip will attract birds to the bath. You can purchase an attachment for your hose or just leave it drip into the bird bath for a couple hours in the morning and again in the evening. Set the hose on the mist setting, aim it against the foliage, and you’ve just doubled the attractiveness of your wildlife area.

There are many kinds of foods and feeders you can provide to attract different kinds of birds. Yes, you can buy feeders, but it’s so much more fun to build your own or find things that will work just as well. The internet is filled with ideas. Anything that can hold seed will work, but make sure there is drainage. If the seed sits in water it will start to germinate and/or rot, which will surely make birds sick.

You will also want to provide seed at different levels. Some birds will only go to feeders that are off the ground, others will only got to feeders that are low or on the ground, and some won't come to your feeders at all, but will enjoy whatever drops or lives in the leaf litter under your feeders.

While we are on the topic of seed, different kinds of birds like different kinds of seed. Start with a good mixed seed and then mix that with a bag of black oil sunflower seed. “Mmm, Mmm, Good!” That will attract a lot of different birds. As you get on to watching wildlife, try other kinds of seeds and nuts – peanuts are a favorite!

However, seeds and nuts are not the only food that will attract birds to your habitat garden. Planting holly, eastern red cedar, red twig dogwood, and beauty berry are just a few plants that provide berries throughout the winter months. Sliced oranges, sliced grapes and apples, and grape jelly will also bring in visitors. Providing meal worms, dead or alive, will be a special treat.

By providing just a simple “feeding station”, you will be amazed at the diversity of wildlife you will be able to watch. As you watch keep a journal of the behaviors and antics that go on in your backyard. You will soon find it to be very much like a soap opera, “Days of Our Wild Lives As the World Turns”. This is an awesome way to Connect with Nature all around us.

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