Backyard Habitats

If you’ve been spending more time at home due to COVID-19, you might be finding yourself staring out the window and getting to know your local wildlife a little better. Squirrels, birds, bugs and other animals visiting your backyard, front steps or feeders can provide just a little distraction from everyday worries. Creating a home for wildlife is a small action that not only helps the animals and the environment, but also provides educational opportunities and hours of delight for family members of all ages — from toddlers to grandparents. 

Squirrel tables, one of the quirkiest trends to emerge from the pandemic, are one way to attract wildlife to your backyard. Setting up a teeny-tiny picnic table and benches bedecked with a tablecloth and umbrella (or not) and nuts is a surefire way to get the ubiquitous furry friends to pay a visit. 

Squirrel tables may be the new bird feeders of the day, but there are other small creatures you may want to consider when seeking solace and in-person entertainment close to home, as paths to social recreation are still limited by the pandemic. 

Sowing certain plants and installing certain feeders specific to the animals you’d like to attract are one way to go about it. Another way is to build or buy housing for a critter. Consider the size of your yard, its urban, suburban or rural location, and the proximity to your neighbors. Start small and go with the creatures your family is most curious about. 

To get started, here are some tips for providing the birds, the bees and the bats a place to live in your space, at least for a time. 

Bat house image courtesy University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

How to Attract Bats to Your Yard 

Bats have a reputation as scary, blood-sucking denizens that live in caves and prey on innocents. Scientists have pegged some species as a source for diseases that can hop to humans and sometimes lead to epidemics like COVID-19. 

But bats are vital to our ecosystem and food supply: they pollinate plants, disperse seeds and control pests. Bat Conservation International says one little brown bat can eat over 1,000 mosquitoes in one night, and that’s a help to all of us. Bats are generally shy and are not aggressive unless they are handled or feel threatened. 

It’s fascinating to watch bats’ aerial acrobatics and listen to their chirps and see them roost upside down. A simple way to do this is to buy or build a bat house to attract them to your own yard. 

Bat Conservation offers free downloadable build-you-own designs. Or you can buy bat houses online, but make sure yours is least 24” high x 16” wide to ensure adequate thermal stability. Fabric or mesh should not be used in the structure, and the roosting boards and landing pads should be made of roughened wood. 

Visit our Small Actions Spark Big Changes webpage for helpful building resources for bat houses, bee hotels and bird houses too. 

Bee hotel image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

The Bee Lodger 

Like bats, bees get a bad rap, and some species are in decline due to habitat loss, disease and other issues. Bees are an important part of our ecosystem: they pollinate flowers and crops and are a food source for other animals.  

Bee hotels, also called nests or houses, are a great way to attract these pollinators to your home garden or yard. Bee hotels are for solitary bees, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees, to make their nests. They are not for the types of bees that live in hives and make honey. Solitary bees are less likely to sting than honeybees because they usually don’t need to defend their turf. 

Solitary bees look for small tubular spaces, like a crevice in a rock wall, where they can safely lay eggs and incubate their young. In a city, these conditions can be hard to find, but with a few scraps of lumber, some screws and an electric drill, a homeowner can make a difference.  

Off Grid World offers 27 creative and attractive bee hotel designs to get you started.  

Birdhouse image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

Birdhouse for the Birds 

Birds may be the easiest lodgers for most people to accept into their home space. Urban pigeon bad-mouthers notwithstanding, who doesn’t like to watch a graceful feathered friend alight on a fence, sing to attract a mate and take off in a New York minute when a squirrel hops in to compete for food? 

There are important things to consider when building or buying a bird house. To name one (or three): Location Location Location. For finches, locate the house 4 to 10 feet off the ground anywhere near your house. Position a bluebird shelter 5 to 10 feet above the ground and facing an open area. Owls like to be near forested areas and prefer their housing to be 10 to 30 feet off the ground; it depends on the species. 

Determining which species of birds live in your area and during which seasons will narrow your choices of which birds to strive for. The National Audubon Society, which chapters in most states including Audubon Pennsylvania and New Jersey Audubon, are great places to start your research if you live in the Philadelphia area.  

You Tube offers an architect’s dream of video choices for how to build a safe birdhouse, from “simple” to “awesome.” Or you could buy one from a garden center, your favorite hardware store or your local pet supply store.

Tour a Bee Farm Via Facebook

At noon on Feb. 18 the Academy and Greensgrow will present a virtual tour of a working Philadelphia bee farm. Visit our webpage for more information.

And now for a singalong

A harmonious home in Philadelphia’s Fitler Square

By Carolyn Belardo

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One comment

  1. Just watched the Spark Change program on making homes for solitary bees, and bats. (From December…) I noted that some of the information that Roger gave is incorrect. Bamboo is not an ideal material to use in bee houses (it doesn’t breathe and invites mold) alsonhe stated that he cleans his houses out after every season. If he means at the end of summer, this is also incorrect because the larvae have to over winter. The tubes should be ideally be made of cardboard, and only replaced the following year after the bees hatch out in April. Just thought I’d pass this information along. Loved the piece on the bat houses.
    Thank you.

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