Sharing Your Space With Wildlife

Never approach wildlife of any size, no matter how big or small. Appreciate critters from inside your home or from a distance outside. The wildlife observation room at the nature center is a great way to see wildlife up close without disturbing it! (Photo by Bob Walker)

By Mariana Rivera Freeman

We’ve all heard the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which has evolved into something apart from its original meaning. But regardless of its Darwinian definition, I actually want you to forget the phrase entirely.

Instead, I want you to think of life on Earth as “survival of the sharers.” A healthy ecosystem is one in which not a single species dominates, but rather many species coexist and share resources. Humans are one of those species. So, in the spirit of “survival of the sharers,” let’s look at a couple of best practices for sharing our backyards with wildlife.

First, Keep Your Distance

It really is special when a wild animal walks through your yard or lands on your balcony, but wildlife is best admired from a respectful distance. Watch from your window, pull out your binoculars, or use a wildlife camera (especially handy at night), but do not approach wildlife.

Personally, I like the peeking-behind-a-curtain method. I’ve been witness to some surprising, even comical, behaviors while hiding my presence. My favorite was a gangly fawn attempting to spar with an antlered buck, who gently pushed the fawn away four or five patient times until the little guy dared to kick him, which you can imagine was not well-received.

Provide Some Resources

Providing water, shelter, and food sources in your yard will attract and provide necessary resources for wildlife, like this Great Horned Owl. (Photo by Hari Viswanathan)

Back in March, we featured an article on certified wildlife habitats. I plan on working on one myself this spring. However, if you aren’t able to certify your space, don’t you worry — you can still provide resources for your wild friends.

If you have trees, cones and acorns, berries, flowers, shade, or water in your yard, you have a resource for wildlife, at no cost or extra effort. The same goes for downed logs, overgrown bushes, and tall grass. Gladly, you needn’t provide for every element of habitat (good news for apartment dwellers!). If you don’t have a yard but you have a bird feeder on a balcony, you’ve got extra sustenance for the birds and they will find habitat somewhere nearby. You can offer other small resources on a balcony like nectar, little fountains, potted plants, and bird or bat houses. You can share your space no matter how large or small.

Set Friendly Boundaries

Of course, all’s well that ends without animals inside the house. Wildlife has a default attitude when it comes to resources: “If no one else is using it, I can use it.” This is the ecology behind survival of the sharers, and how biodiverse life forms can thrive in one ecosystem. 

But it also means that if a gopher can reach your tomatoes, those roots are hers. If a mouse can get into your walls, your house is hers (and so are your wires and insulation!). It takes a bit of extra work, but you can avoid conflict with your animal friends by simply setting some restrictions. Install wiring under and around your garden, erect fencing to protect your landscaping, fix little (or big) holes and crevices in your walls, close your garage at night, and so on. Wildlife can cause considerable damage to your property if you allow it to, even inadvertently, and misunderstandings can be hazardous for you and the animal. So keep everybody safe and happy.

With both caution and admiration, coexisting with wildlife can be as easy as it is natural. As Homo sapiens, our species has the advantage over resources on Earth, and we take up a lot of space. It’s our responsibility, then, to share what we can when we can so that the rest of the animal kingdom can satisfy their hunger, slake their thirst, and move where they need to move — even in our own backyards.

Our Yard Is Now a Wildlife Habitat!

Atticus and Ezra Kozimor in their backyard, which is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat! They are holding their certificate from the National Wildlife Federation and are pointing at the bat box they built with their grandfather. (Photo by Branden Willman-Kozimor)

By Ezra Kozimor and Branden Willman-Kozimor

You and your family can have fun outside by certifying your yard as a Wildlife Habitat. Our family did it in the summer of 2018! The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has all of the information you need on their website, which makes certification fun and easy. We learned from the NWF that there are thousands of Certified Wildlife Habitat gardens all over the United States, and 196 of them are right here in Los Alamos! Because we have so many certified yards and public places in Los Alamos, our whole County has been considered a Community Wildlife Habitat since 2016!

To create a Certified Wildlife Habitat you need to make sure your yard has sources of food, water, cover, and places for animals to raise young. You also need to be sure you use some sustainable practices to take care of your yard. This can include capturing rain water, planting native plants, composting, eliminating chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and more.

To certify our yard we walked around and noted ways we already provide animals with food, water, and shelter. For food, our yard has long grass; native plants like yarrow, penstemon, and netleaf hackberry bushes; fruit trees; and ponderosa pines. We also fill our bird feeders with seed and hummingbird nectar. For water we keep a small bird bath filled, and for shelter we have several trees for squirrels and birds to nest and lots of rocks for insects to find cover. We decided our yard could use more places for animals to raise their young, so we built a bat house and hung it on a big elm tree.

Download or print out this checklist from the National Wildlife Federation and take it around your yard to see what you already provide for wildlife. Are there easy things you can change or add to check off the requirements in each category?

Some things we would still like to do to make our yard an even better wildlife habitat include building a pond, making a butterfly feeder, and planting more fruit trees and native plants.

If you’re ready to certify your yard, head to the National Wildlife Federation’s website. It takes about 15 minutes to fill out an application and there is a $20 application fee.

We hope to reach 200 certified yards in Los Alamos County by Earth Day this year. Join us for this exciting project and contribute to continuing Los Alamos County’s status as a Community Wildlife Habitat!

This article has been updated, but was originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of Nature Notes. Our co-author, Ezra, was 8 years old when he helped write this article!