Fall is my favorite season. I enjoy winter with her blustering snow; spring and summer treat us to a riot of green dotted with a rainbow of bee-attracting colors. Autumn provides fabulous opportunity to study nature before the snow comes.
“Fall! Oh Halloween and Thanksgiving! Oh and then we have Christmas and the New Year! I can smell all the good cooking, and I’m thinking of silver bells and soft blue ribbons, or maybe that woodsy pinecone garland, with plaid bows and merry trees. I’ll go shopping on Black Friday and buy toys for the kids! I’ll wrap things in December, but my cards will be out in November. I’ll do my outdoor lights and unbury Mary and Joseph and the manger, with shepherds and angels. I think they’re behind the artificial tree in the garage, somewhere. It’s lit, you know, with tiny white lights. The outdoor manger, that is. I run a cord and have an inflatable snowman globe opposite the driveway. But remember, Jesus is the reason for the season!”
Excuse me but where did Autumn go? Don’t discard it in favor of holidays. It is a crucial time.
The old year is over and the harvest has been collected. Nature lets out her breath in a long and contented sigh. Fall appears to be death. Most people know that new life will emerge out of the decrepit remains after a long winter. Wildlife, however, is still active even when you can’t see it. It is not death to them; it is the cycle by which they live. We have encroached upon their territory. We owe it to them to give back a little of what we have taken away. I'll share my eco-style (my techniques) with you. Perhaps I will inspire you to incorporate my ideas into your own setting.
Nothing is as cute as teeny mouse nostrils flickering from underneath a carpet of leaves. It takes a keen eye to spot him. You might here the telltale rustle of the mouse as he goes about his business while moving though the crackly leaves if you are not yammering away on your cell phone or loudly talking to the person next to you. (Please, for the love of all animals, keep your odious pet cat indoors where it can eat the food you provide rather than stealing the wild mouse from a needy omnivore.)
The first rule in this game is: natural habitats work wonders. Allow animals to go undisturbed in their habitats. You can help by creating habitats in your own yard for small animals and birds. These animals will have a better chance at getting through the fall if you provide them with the tools that they need: Juniper bushes, toad holes, bark, rock piles and woodpiles (away from your house). Nature keeps the wildlife population in check. Do not fret too much if your favorite cardinal disappears one day.
I am not suggesting that you feed the carnivores (although you will help them out by giving shelter to their prey.) I also am adamant: do not feed the elk and deer. You may think that you are being kind but you are actually creating a nuisance problem as well as killing them. Wildlife will die off or will thrive.
Habitats are easy to construct. You should start in the spring and follow planting guides for you area. You can still have a habitat this fall, however.
Your leaves, which you see as a nuisance that must be swept from your lawn and flowerbeds, will provide a cozy winter respite to field mice, shrews, voles and other small animals. Some will bury deep into the ground and use the foliage as a handy door. Leave some behind along a fence or in a place where (I hope) you’ve observed animals using as a trail. Be aware of the fact that toads, snakes and chipmunks hyphenate: please do not disturb their carefully worked shelters. You will want these creatures around come spring.
Rabbits will search for twigs, moss, bark and leaves to eat during the winter. They are more than happy to eat your vegetable kitchen waste. I am in favor of this but I also disapprove, depending on the situation. Do not throw carrots out on the lawn unless you have been feeding rabbits in this same manner all year. We don’t want to unbalance their digestive system. Further, do not throw scraps out where a rabbit can be picked off by a predator. Mrs. Bunny might be too busy eating to hear some jackass’ domesticated cat creeping up on her. (Autrice is in favor of allowing evolutionary principles to take care of domesticated cats: survival of the fittest. Domesticated urban and suburban cats have decimated the ecology around them by removing essential prey such as birds and mice. Don’t come crying to me if a mountain lion eats your cat, you irresponsible pet owner!)
As I was saying –
You yank your summer annuals from the ground and throw them into a garbage bag. Those still-juicy stems would benefit many creatures. Find a remote corner in your yard and let that biodegradable vegetation have a final purpose. Make a compost heap, if you can.
Allow birds to eat the berries from your bushes. Wait to prune bushes back until the final moments of the season. Many plants should be pruned in the fall only; summer pruning is destroying stored energy. Allow the berries to rest upon the ground as an energy source for other animals.
Junipers make charming holiday backdrops. Hang bits of apple, mullet (found in pet and feed stores), seed ornaments, corncobs or other such edible foods on the junipers (make certain that your items are not too heavy for the bush; allow it to keep its shape.)
Keep your bird feeder clean and stocked with seed. Hang suet baskets and place high-energy suet in them. Keep these filled through winter and fall. Do you have a dog? Do you brush it? Throw the hair into the yard for the benefit of birds and small animals (you can do this year round.) Dryer lint is another fun nesting material.
Peanuts (unsalted) are a squirrel treat. Put them out and observe the antics.
Dig a shallow furrow that is two feet wide and a foot deep, length doesn’t matter. You can place rocks, old branches, grass clippings (chemical free, please), leaves and other “woodsy” material from your yard. This is a perfect sanctuary for everything from mice and snakes to frogs, lizards and toads.
A water dish is helpful during the winter, but you must keep in clean and break up any ice that forms.
Why is this important? What purpose could possibly be gained from letting rotting old leaves, dog fur, dead plants and spent berries to litter my perfect, beautiful, treasured yard? Have you seen those Christmas cards with critters dotting the landscape? If you feed them, they will come. They become a glorious addition to the natural backdrop of your yard. You are also playing an important role in the environment around you.
Do you hate mice invading your home? An outside shelter tempts them away; the population will be kept in check by predators.
Do you hate insects in your home in the early spring? You’ve coaxed toads, mice and other rodents, and birds into your yard (your wildlife habitat!) They will thank you by keeping the creepy crawlies to a minimum. (Leave the spiders, please. They are your first line of natural defense.)
We are mammals. We are part of Nature’s cycle. We benefit when we blend into nature rather than attempting to fight it. My approach is not too difficult to master. Step into your yard and incorporate things to match your personal style and tastes.
WDFW Fact Sheet: Winter Wildlife Feeding lists the thinking behind this.
Feeding Wild Birds what every hobbyist should know - please read.Sunday Scribblings the prompt for today's post.
NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat creating your own.
Bird Seed Ornaments the recipe. Instead of rolling out balls, tinker with this recipe to get the mixture just right and roll it out between sheets of wax paper. Use a cookie cutter (star-shaped or leaf-shaped) and cut out the ornaments. Make certain that you grease the cookie cutter with something to keep the mixture from sticking. Crisco works wonders. I like to thread them with a sharp needle and some thick white twine. Hang in a spot where birds can easily perch and pick at your creation.