Archive for the ‘Certification’ Category

How to Create a Wildlife Habitat Plan

Friday, June 25th, 2010

A plan provides you with a clear picture of the completed project and a road map on how to get there.

The greater the number and variety of habitat components that you provide… the more wildlife you will have to observe and enjoy. Those of you with acreages or farms usually have numerous opportunities to observe wildlife in their habitat. But, for those of you who live in or near urban areas, this may be limited to several days or weekends during the year when you are on vacation.

This doesn’t have to be the case. If you are limited on being able to go where there are wildlife, why not establish or enhance the wildlife habitat where you live and bring the wildlife to you.

You will save yourself energy, money, and the frustration of having to do parts of your habitat over again if you follow a plan. It can be flexible enough for you to alter your plan as you go along, if your needs or conditions change.

And, it can be done no matter what your budget. Keep in mind that shrubs are more desirable than trees since shrubs provide habitat quicker and at less cost. Trees generally take longer to grow to maturity and cost more.

While doing your plan, you have an opportunity to really get creative and have some fun! In fact, this is a great family activity. What better legacy for your children or friends than an appreciation of nature. Creating or enhancing your wildlife habitat can lead to father-son, mother-daughter, and entire family projects.

Oftentimes, these activities produce fond memories that we carry with us for the rest of our lives – or at least until our children do the same things for their children.

Now, move ahead to Step 1:


Step 1:

What are your primary interests?

  • Bird watching
  • Teaching or sharing nature experience
  • Nature photography
  • Hunting
  • Other nature interests


Do you want to observe wildlife from a specific window or door of your home? If yes, which?

If you want to observe or make photographs, where is the best place to install a feeder station or birdbath so you can take advantage of the light and make better photographs?

What are your objectives for your wildlife habitat? For example, you might want to attract five new wildlife species to your property. Or, you may want to install within the next month, two new feeders or birdhouses and a birdbath along with planting some new trees or shrubs in the fall that eventually will produce food for wildlife.

Those of you with acreages or farms may want to set aside an acre or two and plant them to such crops as soybeans, millet, grain sorghum, or sunflowers and then leave the crop in the field over the winter rather than harvesting it. This will give wildlife food to eat during a time when it is hard to find.

Step 2:

What kinds of wildlife are already on your property?

List the different species you currently observe and those you would like to attract on separate sheets of paper. Now check which habitat elements—food, water, cover, and space—you currently have and check the elements you want to add to your habitat.

FOOD – nuts, berries, insects, fruits, grain and seeds, nectar, browse and forage plants. Providing a variety of foods is probably the most important part of your wildlife habitat.

If you can’t plant trees or shrubs on your property, establish a year-round feeding and watering station.

COVER – provides protection from weather and predators. It is right behind food in importance. Cover can be trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, rock piles, brush piles, field crops such as corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans, cut banks, hollow trees, birdhouses, burrows, bridges, abandoned buildings, fence rows and hedgerows. It is important for cover to be close to food and water.

WATER – essential for all wildlife – includes ponds, streams, plants, dew on grass, leaves, fruits, and birdbaths. You need to preserve and manage water in your habitat where it exists and, if absent, build new sources such as ponds, fountains, and baths.

SPACE – territory to roam in and to raise families in. This can range from needing 100 acres for pairs of wild turkeys to at least 300 ft. between bluebird houses. Space may be the most difficult to provide.

Step 3:

Now take a tape measure (100-ft. if possible) and a pad of paper outside so you can make a rough map of your property.

This will save you time and mistakes that can be costly later. It’s a lot easier to move elements around on paper instead of having to dig up and move plants or trees if they aren’t what you want. Start with the outside dimensions of your property. Measure and mark your map with the boundaries. Your property title or deed should list the dimensions. Now locate all structures such as your house. You can do this by first drawing the basic exterior structure outline of each building. Make sure you indicate which elements jog out from, or indent into, the main walls.

Walk around the exterior of your structures, measure each side of the outside walls and record the measurements on your rough map. Next, measure the distances from the corners of each structure to your property lines. Indicate where windows and doors are located on your house. Finally, measure, locate, and label existing trees, shrubs, flower beds, and any water features.

If you have an acreage or farm, you may want to first do a plan for just your house, yard, and buildings. Then, do a plan for your entire property on a different scale. Indicate the size of your fields, field positions in relationship to your house and buildings, what crops you are growing—also rivers, streams, fencerows, thickets, ponds, woodlots, etc.

Step 4:

Now sit down with your rough map and draw your habitat map to-scale.

Indicate directions and the prevailing wind patterns. Be sure and plot all food, water, and cover elements. You might also want to indicate where you have observed specific species.

Step 5:

Check the wildlife habitat components for each basic habitat element that you have or want to add.

If your property contains the following living plants and structural components, chances are you will have wildlife galore. But, don’t despair if you can only provide one or more – every effort helps.

Living Plants:

  • Conifers
  • Grasses and Legumes/ Nectar Plants
  • Summer Fruit & Cover Plants
  • Fall Fruit, Grain & Cover Plants
  • Winter Fruits and Cover Plants
  • Nuts and Acorns (mast)


Structural:

  • Den Trees (snags)
  • Nest Boxes
  • Rock Piles & Brush Piles
  • Cut Banks, Cliffs & Caves
  • Dust & Grit
  • Salt


After you have indicated your choices, take a look at each item as to what is practical from the following points of view: access, time, money, location, assistance needed, and what is legal.

Step 6:

Select the projects or components you want to implement.

If you are planting trees or shrubs, allow enough space for the size you expect them to be in 20 years. Sometimes it is good to set your map aside after you complete it, and, after a couple of weeks, come back and see if it still fits your needs.

Step 7:

Sketch out an action plan/schedule and budget for the projects you have selected and implement them.

If you are going to do the work yourself, be practical and realistic about the time you can devote to the work.

How To Attract Wildlife To Your Property

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Wildlife conservationists have known for years that wildlife populations are dependent on four major factors in their habitat – food, cover, water, and space. If you have an acreage, a farm, a yard, or an apartment balcony, you can usually provide at least two of these elements on your property — food and water. It then becomes important that wildlife have access to cover and space in nearby areas in order to survive.

One of the secrets in creating a successful habitat is to provide a variation within each of the four areas. Different wildlife need different combinations of elements. Having a variety in your habitat means the difference between seeing 200 or just 10 different species. Let’s examine each of the habitat elements.

Food
Food is one of the primary necessities of wildlife. Every species has its own food needs. Often, this changes as the species ages. Food includes the nutritional part of the diet as well as supplements such as salt. Also, many birds require grit or gravel for grinding up food in their gizzards.

Some wildlife eat a variety of foods and others eat only a few different kinds. These include fruit and berries, grain and seeds, nectar, nuts (mast), browse plants such as twigs and buds, plus forage and aquatic plants.

Fruits and berries are rich in vitamins and carbohydrates and are usually available in the summer and fall. These include elderberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, mulberries, and apples. Some varieties, such as mountain ash and holly, have berries that stay on the bush or tree and are available to wildlife in the winter.

One of the most popular berries for birds is elderberries. Fifty-one different bird species eat them. Other favorites are sunflowers, preferred by 46 species, and flowering dogwood, favored by 45 bird species. Fruits are also eaten by many different kinds of mammals, including squirrel, fox, deer, bear, skunk, and opossum.

Nuts are really fruits with a dry, hard exterior shell and contain fats and proteins. Acorns from oak trees are most widely available along with pecans, beechnuts, and walnuts. Squirrels and chipmunks prefer hickory nuts, hazelnuts, black walnuts, and butternuts.

Grains and seeds constitute the major food of many species of wildlife. They mature in the summer and fall but some can be found throughout the year. Seeds of conifers (evergreens) are also a good source of food.

Weeds probably contribute the most to food sources as they are so abundant and many times are favored by wildlife (not property owners) over more attractive yard plants. A good example is pigweed. It can contain nearly 100,000 seeds per plant! Other favorite weeds are ragweed, smartweed, dock, and crabgrass.

Grains raised by farmers, such as oats, wheat, barley, rye, corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans provide abundant food. In recent years, whitetail deer, which have thrived despite urbanization, cause millions of dollars of crop losses for farmers, especially to corn, soybean, and hay fields.

In Maryland the whitetail deer population has increased from 20,000 in 1981 to over 350,000 currently. Other states show similar increases.

Vegetative parts of plants are sought by rodents, browsing and grazing mammals, and some game birds. Deer, antelope, and rabbits are especially fond of alfalfa and clover hays. Also, we must not forget aquatic plants such as wild rice, widgeon grass, pond weeds, and wild celery. They are a favorite of ducks, geese, muskrats, beaver, moose, and sometimes deer.

The roots, bulbs, and tubers of plants which are underground are consumed by moles, gophers, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, and muskrats.

And nectar from plants is sought by hummingbirds, moths, and bees. Plants that successfully attract nectar feeders include trumpet honeysuckle vine, butterfly bush, cardinal bush, paintbrush, bee balm, petunias, and morning glory.

Wildlife will often use an abundant food source almost exclusively when it becomes available. Good examples are nuts and fruits. Squirrels and Blue Jays store acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts for later use. Deer and bears develop a thick layer of fat by feeding on acorns.

Insects are another vital food source, especially for songbirds, quail, and pheasants. If you use insecticides to kill pests on your property, be careful and use with restraint.

Providing a variety of foods is probably the most important part of your wildlife habitat. Selection can be made for a diversity of food types for plants that mature at different times or for those that retain their fruits well into winter.

If you can not plant trees or shrubs on your property, establish a year-round feeding and watering station and offer your wildlife sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, and perhaps some grains such as millet or grain sorghum.

Weather impacts mightily on food sources for wildlife. Early heavy spring rains and early frosts can curtail food production. An early snow can cover all the fruit and seeds that have fallen to the ground. Sleet and ice storms make it impossible for wildlife to find food.

Plant species also vary in production from one year to another. Sometimes acorns or walnuts are almost non-existent and in other years there is an abundant crop.

Cover
Cover is right behind food in importance. It is needed for wildlife to survive and to have protection from weather and predators. Cover is critically important for nesting and raising of young. It is also necessary when wildlife sleeps or rests.

Cover provides protection through concealment and impenetrability to predators. And cover provides protection from rain, snow, sleet, wind, heat, and cold. Many plants provide both cover and food.

There are many different kinds of cover. It can be trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, rock piles, brush piles, field crops such as corn, grain sorghum and soybeans, cut banks, hollow trees, bird nesting boxes, burrows, bridges, abandoned buildings, fence rows, and hedgerows.

It is important for cover to be close to food and water. The more exposed wildlife is, the higher the mortality rate from predators. Hedgerows are one of the most valuable types of cover, as they also provide food in a protected environment. Common hedgerow plants that establish themselves naturally are dogwood, honeysuckle, red bud, wild cherry, and, unfortunately for the property owner, poison ivy.

Water

Water is also essential for wildlife. They must have it to survive. Usually a pond or stream serves the purpose, along with rain collected in the hollows at the base of tree limbs or puddles left after a rain.

Plants also provide water. Rabbits and rodents obtain it by eating leaves. Mammals sometimes get it from dew on grass. And a large source comes from fruits and all types of berries which have a high water content.

One of your biggest challenges is to preserve and manage the water in your habitat where it exists and, if absent, add new sources such as ponds, fountains, or baths. Many hours of enjoyment can result from watching songbirds take a bath in your pond or bird bath.

Space
Each wildlife species has specific needs as far as territory or amount of space to roam in and to breed. A ruffed grouse or quail pair needs about 10 acres while others, such as wild turkey, may need 100 acres of woodland

Wood ducks and purple martins do not defend territory around their nests. But, bluebirds need at least 300 feet between nesting boxes and about five acres for each pair.

The first three habitat requirements — food, cover, and water–can be manipulated by man but space may be more difficult.

Increasing a species variety can be achieved by providing a mixture of habitats with plants, trees, and shrubs in various stages of development.

An example of species variety is when you want to attract all types of songbirds because you like to watch them eat at bird feeders located near your house. This is possible by providing different kinds of seed such as thistle, sunflower, or peanut.

Or, if you have an acreage or farm, maybe you want to increase the number of pheasant or quail on your property because you like to hunt.

In order to attract the birds, you might plant a few rows of corn, grain sorghum, or millet on your property, next to fence rows or hedgerows, and not harvest the grain in the fall so it can be eaten over the cold winter months by wildlife. Make sure you also have adequate water and cover available.

You should know the needs of each species you want to attract. The result can be a stable and varied wildlife population. To attract a specific species, you’ll need to manipulate vegetation so that the cover, food, and water are less limiting for that species. If the species you want to attract requires a variety of habitat needs, you’ll also be able to plan for that.