- December 7, 2017
As the days grow darker and colder, many of us scurry around acting like little grey squirrels preparing for winter. We are busy gathering goodies for our loved ones, filling our homes with the delicious smells of home cooked food, and reuniting with family and friends. Meanwhile, outside, the wildlife are also abustle‒finding and caching food and seeking shelter from the winter weather.
Some animals will hibernate and others will migrate to warmer, greener pastures; but, many remain as local residents. Let’s remember the wildlife this holiday. Below are ten ideas that you can create, install, or do at home to provide food, water, or shelter for a variety of wildlife. These can also make excellent gifts for anyone on your holiday list that would enjoy supporting wildlife in their yard.
Habitat Network Project Leader, Rhiannon Crain
I gave homemade mason bee houses to family members and it was extra special to receive reports throughout the spring and summer about native bees moving in.
Gift ideas are organized from easiest (and most affordable) to the more complex and resource-dependent. Each gift includes a downloadable “tip sheet” with information about wildlife value and details that you can print and include with your gift to help the giftee put their present to work in their yard. Look for the green present in each gift description section and click on it to download the printable tip sheet (example above).
1. Water Dish (include sticks or stones)
Water is one of the easiest resources we can provide to wildlife. If seeing wildlife is a goal, this feature is sure to do the trick. Birds will flock to water, especially during the winter, in cold climates where it can be a hard time to find fresh water. The simplest design is to use a planter drip tray on top of a turned over pot (pictured left) or placed on a balcony or deck. Some homeowners get creative and even use old satellite disks as a water source, depicted in the photo above. To keep water thawed you’ll likely need to add new warm water to the bath every day or consider including a small heating device as an ‘upgrade’ for a giftee in a cold region.
On warmer days, in regions where pollinators and other insects are still active, they can be spotted using this valuable resource, so make sure to include sticks or rocks that are partially submerged to provide an easy exit for visitors that could drown in shallow water. To learn more about what should be included in an effective water resource, explore this article.
2. Native seed balls (seed bombs)
Native seed balls, a.k.a seed bombs, are a fun, messy, cookie-making activity. Find clay at your local craft store or use soil with high clay content. You will also need a bag of compost and seed packets of wildflowers or grasses native to the region where the bombs will be used. See below for our regional seed mix recommendations that you can mix yourself; or donate to Habitat Network and get a packet of native seeds, along with some other goodies in our Starter Kit.
In a large bowl, mix a 1:1 ratio of clay to compost. The clay will help the seed balls stick together, while the compost provides nutrients to support germinating seeds. After thoroughly mixing the compost and clay together, transfer a handful of the soil mixture into a separate bowl that has the native grass and wildflower seeds. Press the handful of soil into the seed mix and once a small handful of seeds stick to the clump of soil, roll the seed/soil up into a compact ball. Repeat this over and over again until you have the amount of desired seed balls. These balls can be stored in the garage or fridge until you are ready to plant them or package them for gifts. They are sometimes referred to as bombs because they can be stealthily thrown into areas in your community where there is disturbed soil to encourage the germination of native plants. Bombs can be thrown in the fall, early winter, or spring.
SEED RECOMMENDATIONS BY REGION:
Eastern Red Columbine, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, New England Aster…see more
Baby Blue-Eyes, Bird’s Eyes, Blue-Eyed Grass,Clarkia, Columbine, California Poppy…see more
Eastern Red Columbine, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, New England Aster…see more
Black-Eyed Susan, Butterfly Milkweed, Clasping Coneflower, Gaura, Gayfeather…see more
Arroyo Lupine, Bird’s Eyes, Blazing Star, California Bluebell, California Poppy…see more
Beardtongue, Dotted Gayfeather, Greenthread, Hoary Vervain, Golden Crownbeard…see more
Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Deerhorn Clarkia, Globe Gilia, Gooseberry Leaf Globemallow…see more
Blue Sage, Clasping Coneflower, Crown Tickseed, Dahlberg Daisy…see more
3. Bumble Bee Hibernation Pot
This is a cute and easy way to provide hibernating areas for bumble bees. Find a small terracotta pot and insert a handful of peat moss pushed up towards the bottom hole. (If you are giving this as a gift, consider decorating the pot with nontoxic paint.) Then fill the rest of the pot with straw. Find a quiet, dry location in your garden and scrape away the top of the soil. Place the pot upside down on the cleared soil and the moss will drop, leaving room for the bee to enter the hole in the bottom of the pot. The bee will maneuver its way down into the layer of straw and burrow into the soil until spring. Once the pot is flipped over in place, cover the pot about ½ way with soil to provide stability and insulation. For those in cold climates where bees have already gone into hibernation or relocated, consider trying this next fall. In southern regions where bumble bees are still foraging in December, these can still be put out this year.
4. Pine Cone Bird Feeders or Molds
Homemade bird feeders are a fun activity for the whole family, with an end product that neighborhood birds will be grateful for. We created a step-by-step guide on how to assemble these wildlife treats. Whether you are making them to hang at home or to give as gifts, the birds (and sometimes squirrels) will flock to these fat-rich winter snacks.
5. Potted Native Christmas Tree
Purchasing a potted Christmas Tree (either for yourself or as a gift) that will be planted outside is an excellent way to help create habitat at home. The evergreen tree you select could eventually grow into excellent shelter for neighborhood wildlife. The Christmas Tree article above will provide some hints for using a potted tree. A few other things to consider; make sure the species is native (there are several non-native potted trees on the market like the Norway Spruce). Also, only keep the tree in the house for about two weeks leading up to the holiday. Living trees can easily dry-out in heated homes. Keeping the tree on the front or back porch before and after Christmas will help prepare it to be planted outdoors. Plant the tree as soon as possible after the holidays.
6. Beginning Wildlife Gardener Kit
Do you know someone you suspect might be interested in creating a wildlife garden? As many Habitat Network folks know this process can take time to research. Why not give the gift of your expertise by putting together a wildlife gardening kit with native seeds, maybe some live native plants, and a handy tool or two. We aim to make this easier with a list of recommended resources for those beginning (or interested in beginning) to focus their gardens on native habitat. Check out the Habitat Network articles about the value of native plants— a cornerstone of a successful wildlife garden.
Items we recommend are listed below accompanied by a link to more indepth information:
- Pollinator Planting Guide by Region: Use the Local Resources tool on our Explore page type in your zip code and scroll down to download a link to your Pollinator Planting Guide of your region.
- Native Seeds or Plants: We suggest the following companies, organized by state, to consider when purchasing native seeds. Looking for live plants? Use the Local Resources tool on our Explore page to find nurseries in your region that stock native plants. Simply type in your zip code and scroll to the bottom of the page for a link to the closest native-carrying nurseries to your zip code.
- Planting Palette: Print a copy of our Planting Palette on this article where we discuss the importance of creating gardens with various blooms and/or fruits available for the entire growing season.
7. Peanut Butter Seed Logs
Peanut butter logs will require access to a three to five-inch thick log or branch and a drill with a ½-1 inch bit. Using the drill, make ½-1 inch size holes in the log about ½ inch deep. Stagger the holes every inch or two like the picture above. Perches are not required. Birds, like the female cardinal pictured, will be able to grip the wood. If, however, you prefer perches, simple screws, as depicted will suffice. Stuff the holes with a mixture of peanut butter and birdseed. The birds will work their way through the sticky, seed-filled cavities. These logs can be reused once they’ve been pecked clean .
8. Bee house
Bee houses are another fun DIY project that will benefit your native pollinators. Creating bee houses does take some ‘know how’ to make sure you are designing a house that will be helpful and not act as an ecological trap for native bees. Different types of bees will be attracted to slightly different size holes and materials, so keep that in mind and try to design for the types of bees you are hoping to attract. Scroll down in the bee house article to see some guidelines for building a safe and effective bee house. The one pictured is a stack of one-inch boards with four router trenches in both the top and bottom, that, when stacked, create holes for bees to lay their larva in and make harvesting cocoons and cleaning the house a breeze. We provide additional guidance on houses for Mason Bees and Leafcutter Bees in these downloadable pdfs.
9. Nest box for Spring
Spring will be knocking at our door before we know it. In states that experience mild winters, such as southern or southwest states, we recommend putting up nest boxes in February, and for more northern states, in March. Spend some time this holiday assembling a nest box using these easy to follow plans by our sister project, Project NestWatch. Notice that depending on which bird(s) you’d like to encourage to nest on your property, you will need to be mindful of the entry size to the nest box. Buiding a nest box is relatively easy, but certain tools and steps must be considered to make the house safe for birds. NestWatch also provides printable infographics with species information and mounting tips for each type of nest box that you can include with your gift.
10. Build a Bat House for Spring
Bats are unsung wildlife heros. Their presence helps to keep insect populations in check on those warm summer nights when you’d rather be watching the sunset instead of swatting buzzing mosquitos. Building a bat house in the winter to install in the spring may help provide safe, warm roosting places for bats emerging from hibernation. Across the Northeast and Midwest, with recent outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest, bats are combating the devastating effects of White-Nose Syndrome. They could use our help with easy to access shelters. Learn more about bat houses and check out our easy to follow document on building a bat house from a shipping palette.
11. Natural Cavity Nest boxes
If you or your neighbor cut down a tree this fall, give that downed tree a second look. Before cutting it up into smaller pieces, investigate and see if there are any cavities created by primary nesters, such as woodpeckers. If so, cut 6-12 inches above the hole and 6-12 inches below the hole. You can then take this block and hang it as a “natural nest-cavity”. If you have downed trees, these take less time and money than making or purchasing a nest box! Think of it as saving the work of a woodpecker to help a cavity-nesting bird.
12. Handwoven Wreath & Center Pieces
Do you have evergreen trees as a part of your landscape? How about shrubs that hold their vibrant red berries for birds to enjoy all winter long? Combine these two and you have the beginnings of a beautiful wreath you can hang on your door that functions as “habitat”. Our very own Megan Whatton makes these each winter. She cuts the boughs off her cedar, spruce, white pines, or firs, and goes to work. Winterberry, acorns, pinecones, etc, make colorful, fun additions. Another option is to make table centerpieces by finding a vessel (that can hold water) and placing all the pieces inside like a bouquet of flowers. Your creativity is your only limitation! Start cutting and arranging for those on your holiday list.
**Making candle centerpieces are an option but be cautious as drying foliage is a potential fire hazard.
For more creative gifts to install in your wildlife gardens, visit our Pinterest page.