Going native in the backyard

Allowing native plants to take over the yard attracts a variety of local wildlife.

Pam Lockeby/Daytona Beach News-Journal/AP

Most suburbanites are content with songbirds at their birdbaths – but not me. In the past year, I’ve had visits from a goose, an owl, a wild-turkey couple, and a raptor.

I live in upstate New York in an area that was once part of an inland pine barrens known as the Pine Bush. My suburban neighborhood was built in the decade following the end of World War II, when a maze of streets was carved out of the sandy soil and several hundred homes were built for returning GIs.

Here and there, among the grid of side streets, there are still patches of woods, although they are greatly diminished because of continuing development.

Most of my neighbors have turf lawns, a few flower beds, and a pine tree or two left over from the Pine Bush.

Gardens, birdbaths, and bird feeders in the neighborhood attract a wide variety of northeastern songbirds – robins, wrens, finches, chickadees, and hummingbirds.

Last year, fed up with fighting quack grass and other weeds with so many chemicals, I decided to let a portion of my property “go native.”

By reducing the use of chemical herbicides, I’ve encouraged a few native wildflowers to set down roots among the perennial beds and lawn. Sown by the wind and wildlife, plants such as wild aster, mullein, nightshade, and Indian paintbrush have sprung up as if by magic.

A patch of feathery yarrow nestles next to my nasturtiums, its delicate white flowers contrasting with their bright-orange blossoms. Some of my “weeds” have medicinal properties and were used by native Americans to treat ailments.

In all, I’ve catalogued a total of 85 different plant species on my one-third of an acre. Due to the diverse species it harbors, my corner lot has been designated a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

Each season brings a new surprise visitor to my habitat. One winter night, I awoke to hear an owl hooting outside my bedroom window. Perched on a swaying pine tree, the bird of prey waited patiently for dinner to happen by.

In spring, a young Canada goose got separated from his migrating flock and floundered in the dog run momentarily before taking flight again to tag along after the honking formation heading north.

In late summer, I looked out the kitchen window to see what was creating a commotion among the squawking blue jays around the birdbath. A young red-tailed hawk hid under a hickory branch, his speckled chest making him difficult to spot among the sun-dappled foliage.

This month, I’m waiting to see the wild-turkey couple from the woods down the street come sauntering across the lawn, their heads bobbing like giant bird bobble-heads.

Next month is bow hunting season in the Pine Bush. But with Thanksgiving approaching, the turkeys know they’ll find a safe haven in my backyard.

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