Be Less Tidy in Your Yard! Welcome Wild Fruits

We think of fall as migration time when all the birds leave. And there is a great birdcast website to see in live time the flights. But an autumn walk through a park with wild edges reveals shrubs, bushes, and grasses alive with bird activity. Visit an orchard on a cold winter day and the odds are good for spotting robins pecking on frozen dropped apples, but wild fruits are more common, all just beyond suburbia.

Let’s step back to spring. When Rich worked at the Indian Creek Nature Center his phone would often ring during those first warm days. With excitement callers would announce that the robins had returned. Spring’s here!

Seeing a robin on a spring lawn gives the illusion that they’ve just made a long journey from a faraway wintering ground down south. Robins, bluebirds, and other birds usually just shift where they live and forage as seasons change.

Ecological Survivors

A robin sits in a tree

A robin surveys the area

Robins, in particular, are ecological survivors. They’re adapted to living on lawns and around people during the warm months, where they nest on porch eaves and forage for worms and bugs in mowed grass. The coming of fall’s cold marks the disappearance of robins from suburbia. They don’t go far and make an amazing dietary switcheroo to wild fruits.

Robins and bluebirds shun their summer buggy and wormy diet and shift to fruits and some seeds come winter.

On an October walk, we spotted several wild fruits – berries perhaps – that birds feast on during the cold months. the native plants are great – even the poison ivy – the exotics are problematic.

Here are some common winter weedy and seedy plants:

  • Gray Dogwood. This small native dogwood often forms thickets along trails, parks, woods, and even yards and holds plenty of berries into cold months.
  • Wild grapes. People rarely eat sour and seedy wild grapes, and sometimes birds also leave them alone during summer, but come winter the raison-like grapes make nutritious avian fare.
  • Poke Weed. In late fall this tall purple-stemmed and fruited plant is hard to miss. Birds eat the frozen berries. Note: Poke berries are toxic to people and many mammals but not birds.
  • Poison ivy. Gulp. This bane of allergic people is a beneficial wildlife plant. Deer and rabbits browse on the woody sprouts and birds feast on the berries.
  • Asian Honeysuckle, Japanese Barberry, and Oriental bittersweet are “dirty bird plants.” Actually, birds love the berries and carry them far and wide to poop out the seeds. All three exotic plants are highly invasive and crowd out more desirable native plants. Birds have helped them conquer woodlands and field edges to the detriment of healthy bio-diversity.

Winter Fare Is More Than Fruits

Winter bird fare isn’t just fruit. Many birds glean frozen spiders and insects from crevices in tree bark and dozens of species continue to eat grass and “weed” seeds. That’s a problem with mowed lawns. They produce no seeds, so few birds visit them during the colder months. Taller growing grasses, flowers, and shrubs often hold their seeds into the winter and are bird magnets.

Want to have birds in the yard all winter?  Keeping feeders stocked helps, but better results come when homeowners encourage buffers of native shrubs, vines, and grasses that produce natural winter bird food and habitat. Most people love their tidy lawn, but edging the lawn, usually along a property line, or creating “pocket prairies” with native or desirable tall grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs adds summer color and year-round wildlife appeal. So, we encourage readers to create and leave wilder spaces for the birds!

Messy Yard – Look From a Different Perspective

Colorful yard

Prairie flowers dance on a knoll.

Motorists passing our yard must think we have a messy yard. Instead of the clipped and sprayed yards of neighbors, ours is a dancing field of tall wildflowers and native grasses. Many consider them “weeds”. Our yard is unconventional, healthy, and beautiful. It attracts desirable wildlife and is dynamic. Visitors, especially children, love walking through six-foot-tall grasses on our labyrinth pathway. To us, pollinators and birds, it’s heaven, not a mess. It is a naturally landscaped yard.

Sugar Grove Farm Paves the Way

chicken among crops

The space between crops is productive in a different way.

Last summer Rich toured Rodale Institute’s plantings at Sugar Grove Farm near Cedar Rapids. Researcher Linda Sturm led him and farmers to plots of vegetables and fields of corn and soybeans before stopping by a long row of what looked like weeds with wildflowers mixed in.

“This is an unproductive area, wasted ground, that could have been planted to corn,” a farmer remarked. Linda countered that it is likely the most productive land on the farm. “It’s the home base for pollinators and birds. They forage in nearby crops to collect nectar and eat insect pests,” she said.

Natural Yards Can Reduce Pests

Same thing at Winding Pathways. Our vegetable garden is amazingly productive despite never using insecticides and only mowing sparingly. Butterflies visit squash, cucumbers, okra and other crops, spreading pollen while wrens constantly forage for insects to feed their hungry young.

A clipped and sprayed lawn is only slightly more attractive to wildlife than pavement.   There’s no place for tiny beneficial creatures to live.

Create Pollinator Patches

Homeowners with small yards can help pollinators and birds by creating islands or strips of welcoming habitat, perhaps in the backyard or along the property line. Linda Strum created habitats within farm fields, and suburban homeowners can enjoy the same benefits. Worry about the neighbor’s reaction? Just create a habitat in the backyard out of sight of passersby.

Adding birdhouses adds to wildlife fun. We love watching house wrens hunt insects and bring their catch to their babies nestled in a wooden birdhouse dangling down from our porch ceiling.

Given a bit of imagination and fun work even the smallest yard can appear tidy, be aesthetically diverse, and provide homes for butterflies and wondrous spaces for kids and adults.

 

The Continuing Saga of the Ninja Chicken

Well, our Ninja Hen is at it again.  A neighbor, watching the hens for us, entered the barn one morning to find the California White strutting around inside the barn but out of the coop! Looking around, our neighbor also found a small white egg in a depression in the sand in a tucked-away corner of the barn.

After some coaxing, Ninja Chicken hopped back into the coop through the door our neighbor had opened.

Reinforcing Didn’t Work

You may remember an earlier blog where we explained that Rich had blocked off all the areas he could see where she might be able to fly up to and escape into the barn.  All was well for several weeks.

Meanwhile, Houdini Hen (aka Ninja Chicken) was figuring out how to “fly the coop” so to speak.

And she did. One morning, we too, found her again proudly prancing around the barn. She looked at us and seemed to say, “Haha.  You can’t keep me in!” But, she could not quite figure out how to get back into the coop.

How in the world did she escape?

We looked around and found over in a far corner another gap between the chicken wire and the ceiling. The wire was bent down so we speculate that she worked at bending it when she landed on the wire and eventually had enough space to squeeze through and roam the barn at will laying eggs in that cozy little corner. The wire is straightened and the space is now plugged with plywood. Will she figure out another way to escape? We’ll know in the next few days.

Lesson

Our Ninja Chicken

This hen continues to teach us something. Chickens are not dumb clucks. This girl used intelligence to find an exit and demonstrated amazing athletic ability getting to and through a relatively small hole up high near the ceiling. And she is first in line for snacks, too.

No Feeders for Birds? No Problem!

Hi all:  Many people either don’t have feeders for birds or have reduced their giving of seeds due to higher expenses. Yet, we still like to note birds around.  We encourage you to join Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch. From the website click on “About” on the tab and read more details of how you can enjoy watching and documenting birds starting November 1st.

Taking the Direct Path – No Rules Labyrinth

Editor note: Because of a glitch in the system and being uncertain if this blog was published at the original time, we are sharing now.
Guest blogger, Shari McDowell

I walked a labyrinth this afternoon. The one in New Bo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, between the Bottleworks and the Bohemian. Usually, I walk the path as it’s laid out, stand in the middle, contemplate something that’s on my mind, take it all in, then walk the path out. this time I chose a no rules labyrinth walk.

No Rules Labyrinth Walk

Today was different. No rules, no expectations.

Approaching the labyrinth, I felt pulled from my center. I looked down at my feet on the ground and watched as I crossed all the lines and walked right straight through to the center. I stood there for a moment, then laid on my back and looked up at the clouds in the blue sky.

Blue Sky, Fluffy Clouds

summer sky from the no rules labyrinth walk

The warmth of the sun settled on my face and body. The air around me danced between a breeze and full-out wind ensuring the sun didn’t get too hot while simultaneously whisking away a few tears.

It was a gentle release. A reminder that when I know where I’m going I can just go there. I don’t have to take the expected path. I don’t have to do it the way everyone else does and it really can be simple and straightforward.

Listening to Intuition

I can trust myself, trust my own process, and my intuition. No fluff, no ceremony, no hoops to jump through. Just take action. Do what I need to do. Stop when I need to. Rest. Breathe. Be.

I don’t know how long I stayed there. My head got “busy” brain. I became aware of passersby. The moment had passed and it was time to get up.

I don’t remember if I walked straight out or if I followed the path. It didn’t really matter. I was ready to go so I went.

While there are many things to be discovered by taking the long road or the scenic route, sometimes a direct approach is good.