Suburban sanctuary

This is the content from the earliest Wrenaissance web pages I can find in the Internet Archive. I’ve deleted the links to avoid dead ends, but otherwise the information remains relevant.

To the great amusement of my family and friends, over the last four years I have become devoted to the idea of creating a wildlife sanctuary in our suburban yard. I had no idea this was going to happen – in fact, when house hunting, I was an advocate of buying a townhouse or large condo and it was my husband-to-be who felt strongly about buying a single family home. We found a house we liked, we didn’t find a townhouse or condo, and we both got tired of house hunting, so we ended up with the single-family house and a yard and a deck and all the accouterments of life in suburbia, including a bird feeder.

And I fell in love with the birds. I became fascinated watching them. My love of animals and my interest in the environment merged as I learned about the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program. And so I began…this is a little of the story, a work still in progress, as a former urban apartment dweller builds a sanctuary in the suburbs, a place I call Wrenaissance, both for my new interests and for the Carolina Wrens who have taken up residence in our garage.

How and why

It’s not difficult to create a wildlife habitat in your yard if you’re willing to give up the typical suburban lawn and provide food, water, and shelter for small animals instead. It also helps to plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers, since local plants and animals are suited to each other.

Why did I do this?

  • I really enjoy watching birds, squirrels, and other wildlife, and wanted to do everything I could to attract them to my yard.
  • It’s good for the environment – songbird migration is disrupted and bird species are disappearing at an alarming rate due to habitat loss as cities and suburbs sprawl further afield.
  • Pesticides are killing birds.
  • Traditional landscaping has disadvantages.
  • Pollution from yard runoff has damaged watersheds, rivers, and larger bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Use of native plants helps preserve biodiversity.
  • It’s fun! There are lots of other people doing the same thing. Join the crowd!

How-to

Both the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service offer information and step-by-step guides to creating a backyard wildlife habitat as well as general information on the why and how of backyard conservation. There’s an abundance of books, magazines, and electronic resources available if you want more information.

Wildlife observed in my yard

  • Carolina Wren (of course)
  • House Wren
  • Rock Dove
  • Mourning Dove
  • European Starling
  • Common Grackle
  • America Crow
  • Cardinal
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Junco
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Finch
  • House Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Robin
  • Veery
  • Blue Jay
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Chickadee
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Catbird
  • Mockingbird
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Yellow-shafted Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mouse
  • Mole
  • Chipmunk
  • Squirrel
  • Groundhog
  • Opossum
  • Raccoon

Project FeederWatch

A major part of the fun of a backyard habitat is watching the animals that visit as a result of your efforts. In particular, many people enjoy backyard birdwatching, aka feederwatching. Anyone who likes birds in the yard is going to put up at least one feeder; the trick is stopping at four or five. While watching the birds and other backyard visitors is rewarding in and of itself, it’s also possible to make a contribution to scientific knowledge by sharing your observations with Project FeederWatch.

Other habitats (websites at the time)

  • Aves Bird Pages – Dedicated to the participants of Project FeederWatch, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Aves’ pages allow participants in the FeederWatch listserv to share information and photos about birds and other wildlife in their yards.
  • Backyard Wildlife Habitat #19051 – A property inventory/application and a collection of photos from the Cruger’s habitat in Oregon.
  • Backyard Wildlife Habitat #23776 – A Maryland habitat. A few pictures and links to other bird info.
  • Bee’s Ivory Tower – A pond, some photos, and information on amphibian monitoring.
  • Butterfly Zone – This site discusses how to attract butterflies to your garden, including the basics of how to plan a small butterfly friendly garden or window box. The Urban Gardener’s Journal is the history of the creation of a backyard wildlife habitat in Virginia. 
  • Carrolls Critters: Wildlife – A certified backyard habitat since 1986, Carroll’s Corner attracts birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects, and loves all of them. 
  • David Jordan Bird Habitat – David is [was] a 14 year old bird enthusiast in Yorba Linda, CA. He includes information on the habitats and the NWF habitat program as well photos and information on his backyard.
  • Family Stone Backyard Wildlife Habitat – The Family Stone backyard wildlife habitat is in Loveland, Colorado. It is a xeriscape – not quite a desert, but the need for watering is eliminated by the wise choice of plantings. 
  • Feathers and Flowers…A Habitat Haven – An online project creating a haven for birds and butterflies. Two writers – one who wrote about birds, one about gardens – at The Mining Co (now about.com) joined forces to create a wildlife-friendly  backyard. Includes a history of the project, lots of photos, and links to more online about birds and gardens.
  • Garden Bench – Dedicated to promoting backyard habitats and wildlife gardening, Garden Bench includes a habitat tour, photos, and a variety of links and information, some commercial.
  • Kevin’s Backyard and Wildscape Page – The transformation of a typical backyard into a NWF certified habitat and a Texas certified wildscape. Large photos take some time to download.
  • Lake Big Fish – Backyard Wildlife Habitat #16518, also known as Lake Big Fish, is an oasis nestled in the suburban sprawl of Plano, Texas. Lake Big Fish is also a registered Texas Wildscape Backyard Wildlife Habitat (Texas Wildscape #712). 
  • Liebler-Neubig Prairie Project 1999 – Better than turf grass … pictures from the transformation of a front yard.
  • Lois and David’s Birding and Backyard Habitat – Lois and David  live in the Lehigh Valley area of eastern Pennsylvania. Their yard has become certified by the National Wildlife Federation as Backyard Wildlife Habitat #10309. They have established a Butterfly Garden, a Wildflower Area, plants that attract hummingbirds, and many perennial beds. 
  • My Garden Path: A Florida & National Backyard Wildlife Habitat – A Florida and National Wildlife Habitat – perfect proof that you don’t have to have a lot of land to create a refuge for wildlife. 
  • Nest Box – Photos, info, and links, with an emphasis on birds and birding, and a particular interest in bluebirds.
  • NWF Example Habitats, Inspirational letters, and a Memoir: Backyard Wildlife Habitat #364 – Text and pictures from participants in the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, from the early years of the program to the present day.
  • Our Backyard Forest – An Ohio habitat with wildflowers, prairie grasses, trees, and shrubs –  at first purchased plants, but later grown from local seed to preserve the local ecology . There is a plants page with a description of each plant, a picture book of photos taken around the yard, and a collection of useful links to other interesting and educational sites.
  • Unpave the Way for Wildlife – Journey North’s nationwide collection of backyard and schoolyard habitats.
  • Water Lily Cottage – is located in Montecito, California, and is a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat. The garden includes a large collection of California native plants and other non-native plants that are suited to dry climates (xeriscaping) plus a water garden. 

Resources (websites at the time)

Wildlife habitat

  • Backyard Birding from the Baltimore Bird Club
  • Backyard Conservation from the Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Feathers and Flowers: A Wildlife Haven (about.com)
  • National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service pamphlets
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region pamphlets
  • Unpave the Way for Wildlife from Journey North
  • Wildlife Gardening (about.com)
  • Windstar Wildlife Institute

Wildlife

  • National Wildlife Health Center
  • National Wildlife Refuge System
  • Second Chance Wildlife Center
  • Wildlife Articles from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory
  • Wildlife Rescue League

Native plants

  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • Maryland Cooperative Extension Service
  • Native Plants Conservation Initiative
  • Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration, and Landscaping
  • Virginia Native Plant Society
  • Wild Ones

Birds

  • Backyard Birding
  • BirdOn!
  • Chickadee Home Pages
  • Hummingbirds!
  • Journey North 1999
  • Nutty Birdwatcher – Eastern US Birds
  • Patuxent-Migratory Bird Research
  • Partners in Flight

Organizations – a selective list

  • Audubon Naturalist Society
  • Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and its Project Feeder Watch
  • Fairfax Audubon Society
  • Nature Conservancy
  • Northern Virginia Bird Club
  • Virginia Native Plant Society
  • Wildlife Rescue League

Books

  • The Bird garden / Stephen W. Kress. (National Audubon Society). New York: DK Press, 1995.
  • Birdscaping your garden / George Adams. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1994.
  • The National Wildlife Federation’s guide to gardening for wildlife / Craig Tufts and Peter Loewer. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1995.
  • Hummingbird Gardens / Nancy Newfield and Barbara Nielsen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
  • More books, recommended by participants in Project FeederWatch

Author

Who, me?

Although I’m not an expert gardener, I worked hard to make Wrenaissance a backyard wildlife habitat.

I’m also a cat person. I love cats. I’ve had or shared a cat most of my life, and have found the times without a cat to be the poorer for it. Since my kitty stays inside at all times, there’s no conflict of interest.

As a librarian and web developer, I have a professional interest in preserving intellectual freedom and promoting the free exchange of ideas. In addition, I have a personal interest in preserving my freedom, especially the freedom to think for myself. Don’t fall for the easy answers.