By Liz Walch
Some of my favorite outdoor activities as a kid were watching the tiny toads that hopped around my house and quietly sitting myself down on the living room windowsill to watch the hummingbirds, who would come to sip nectar at our hummingbird feeder (and as I type this, I am realizing that these are two activities I love doing when I go back home to Michigan as an adult!). There is something special about peacefully coexisting with the animals who share my home, yard, and the wild spaces surrounding my house. I feel that sometimes it is easy to forget that – even in a city – there are so many animals living their lives very closely to us.
Connecting with wild animals can be particularly difficult for city dwellers, but doing something as simple as putting out a bird feeder or building a “toad abode” not only makes the lives of the animals who live near us better, it also gives us the opportunity to enjoy watching them from a distance. Efforts like these also help us remember that we not only share our neighborhoods with other animals, but planet Earth as well! Because we humans have built our own homes over the habitats of other animals, we have a responsibility to be the best neighbors we can be. One way to do this is to create safe, humane spaces for the animals that live near us in our backyards and gardens. It might not seem like it makes a big impact for animals as a whole, but it does make a big impact for our animal neighbors.
I recently wrote a lesson for H.E.A.R.T.’s forthcoming Comprehensive Humane Education Resource Guide about how youth can make their backyards and areas around their homes happy and healthy spaces for wild animals. I loved researching all the fun and creative ways we can help our animal neighbors and wanted to share some activities with you!
A brush pile is a heap of logs, sticks, and leaves. Building one makes a safe home for small animals like toads and mice as well as insects including beetles and spiders. To make a brush pile, stack up small logs, sticks, and some leaves in a quiet corner of your yard.
Fill up your bird feeder with seeds and nuts. This is important in winter when it is harder for birds to find food. Some birds do not use bird feeders and only like to find food on the ground. Spread some seeds and nuts on the ground below the feeder so that ground feeders can eat too.
Flowers are pretty, but they are also a source of food for some animals. Animals like butterflies, moths, bees, and hummingbirds drink the sweet nectar from flowers. Plant flowers that you know will attract and feed the insects and birds found in your neighborhood.
Bird and Bat Houses
A bird or bat house is a small wooden box that a bird or bat lives in. The house gives them a safe, quiet space where they can sleep or raise their babies. Try building your own bird or bat house with a few pieces of wood and some nails.
A birdbath is a shallow bowl of water where birds and other animals can come to take baths and drink. Make sure to keep the bath full of water and clean from dirt or debris.
Most people mow the grass in their yards; however, short grass isn’t the most natural place for an animal to live. Most animals want long grass, full of different types of plants, where they can hide and make their homes. You can help by keeping part of your yard’s grass long. If you leave the grass long, soon other plants will start to grow as well. This is the best type of place for so many animals to live.
A “bug box” is a box filled with small holes and places where all sorts of insects can live. You can create your own bug box by building or finding a wooden box with one side open, then stack up things like sticks, stones, pinecones, or bricks on the inside.
A “toad abode” is a small home on the ground where toads (and other small animals) can be safe. To build your own “toad abode”, turn a flowerpot on its side, and bury half of it in the ground. This creates a small cave that a toad can live in (you can also have an adult crack a flower pot in half to make two toad abodes).
I hope you can find opportunities to do some of these activities in the classroom, such as building and decorating birdhouses or toad abodes for the students to take home with them. Or that you’re able to do some of these activities at home in your own yard! These might seem like small gestures, but they will create a great impact on our animal neighbors and friends.
* A note about feeding wild animals: as my colleague Kim Korona pointed out, there is much debate on whether it is actually helpful for people to feed wildlife because it can cause some animals to become dependent on people for food. It may also increase wildlife populations, causing resources to deplete and/or insufficient space for some species to thrive. Only consider suggesting that people provide a food source for animals, such as a bird feeder, if no one in the community is concerned about the species being overpopulated, when the habitat has been damaged, making it difficult for the species to find enough food on their own, or if you think you can provide the food source for a long and consistent period of time, as the animals will begin to rely on it.
Main Photo Credit: Hunda / Flickr