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River Oaks, Janesville, WI

Featured Site Created By Cory Wiedenhoeft

Even though Cory Wiedenhoeft was a self-proclaimed “avid birder” before he purchased his Wisconsin home, the transition to a more natural, wildlife-friendly landscape wasn’t because he had a clear vision to provide a habitat for birds…at least, not at first. Rather, he just got tired of spending three hours a week mowing grass. So, he started mowing less and less. Over the course of five years, he noticed more grassland birds like Chipping Sparrows and Sandhill Cranes visiting, White-tailed Deer started coming to bed down in the tall grasses, and his yard list expanded to include at least 80 different bird species.

Nestled at the confluence of open farm fields, woodlands, and the Rock River, River Oaks hosts a number of birds that benefit from access to these three distinct vegetation communities. When not discovering new surprises on nature “walk-abouts” around the yard with his wife, Cory can be found managing his family’s 40-acre woodland in northern Wisconsin (mapping in progress). Once upon a time, any undesirable trees found there would have been turned into firewood, but after taking advantage of a training program for woodland owners called the Wisconsin Coverts Project, Cory now recognizes the value in re-purposing those trees as snags for wildlife.

Cory now manages both properties for natives and has planted many new native trees which will provide food and cover for birds. These efforts have not been in vain. Cory describes how “Each new season brings us something new to look at, and our yard work has become so much more than trying to make the lawn look aesthetically pleasing. We now feel like our yard is helping to make the world a better place for wildlife.” Read on to learn more about his efforts at River Oaks.

What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?

Organic bird-friendly berries

Photo © Janet Wiedenhoeft

With the help of my father, I planted roughly 60 trees over the last 5 years; all but 4 are native to Wisconsin (the other 4 were gifts). Among the native trees are eastern white pine, balsam fir, swamp white oak, jack pine, quaking aspen, river birch, sugar maple, red maple, and black spruce. I further manage for natives by planting and encouraging many desirable understory species such as American elderberry, dogwood, Mayapple, and blood root.

I also reduced the mowed area of the lawn by one quarter of an acre and mowed some walking paths. I removed numerous invasive species like honeysuckle, buckthorn, Queen Anne’s lace and garlic mustard, and have built several large brush piles. I have also added several bird houses, three bird feeders and two birdbaths. All of this is a work-in-progress that will continue into the foreseeable future.

  • Tip: Mowed paths help make wild spaces and long grasses look intentional.

What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")

Baby robins in progress

Photo © Janet Wiedenhoeft

The thing I’ve put the most work into has been the elimination of the non-native invasive species. It has payed off! When we purchased the property five years ago, it was covered in honeysuckle, buckthorn, and garlic mustard. As I have eliminated the invasives, I am starting to see native perennials move back in. Now, I find American elderberry, wood violets, wild geraniums, milkweed, and ferns. There were virtually no native saplings coming up before, but I now see box elder, elm, black cherry, shagbark hickory, black oak, and green ash seedlings sprouting up all over!

Its difficult to quantify changes in wildlife presence. I’m not sure if seeing new or more birds is because of the changes we’ve made or if we’re simply becoming more observant. This year, we’ve noticed a large increase in the number of Chipping Sparrows, but I don’t know if there are actually more of them or if I’m just paying better attention to them.

Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?

Lovey dovey

Photo © Janet Wiedenhoeft

The hardest decision, for me, is thinning native trees. I’d like to encourage more oaks, but they are currently being dominated by several huge, beautiful black cherries. I’m sure at some point I’m going to have to girdle a couple of trees if I want the oaks to thrive.

  • Girdling is a method of killing a tree without cutting it down. A ring of bark is removed around the trunk of the tree, which cuts off water and nutrient flow and eventually kills the tree. It’s a means of creating a snag in the interest of wildlife and cavity-nesting birds, and it’s best suited for areas that have no naturally-occurring standing dead trees. Trees that are invasive, short-lived, or have low value for wildlife can be girdled to reduce competition on more valuable wildlife trees.