Among the Farm Fields in St. Clair, IL
Featured Site Created By Tina M
Surrounded by fields, which rotate between corn, soy, and wheat crops, in St. Clair, Illinois, Tina has made it her mission to provide habitat for wildlife. Her family purchased the property in 2006 and she quickly went to work to replant native trees, shrubs, vines, bushes, and flowers in place of the non-native lawn. This endless task provides her with the simple joy of witnessing more and more species of birds, amphibians, insects, and mammals. She is constantly searching for more features to add to her property; a kestrel house, bat house, and a pond are all coming soon. Her efforts are heroic, as she states, “I know the birds and wildlife are here because they are benefiting from my yard”, and that is all the reward she needs. To see more of the amazing things Tina has done to her property, visit her map, and be sure to explore her Flicker page to see all the wildlife she has photo-documented.
EcoRegion: Eastern Broadleaf Forest (Continental) Province
Planting Zone: 6b
What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?
We started working to make our 1.2 acre property wildlife friendly in the spring of 2006, when we moved in. Prior to that, the yard was pretty much an open, barren lawn with a few mature maple, oak and sycamore trees. There were a few non-native privet bushes, burning bush, lilac and two areas with landscaped bushes, nothing that produced berries for food or cover for birds. Our property is surrounded by uninviting (to most birds) farm fields. At first, I bought a lot of trees just to get things growing not giving any thought to natives trees. Most of them did not survive and I started researching and buying natives from a local source (Missouri Wildflowers Nursery in Jefferson City, MO). Now, the yard is starting to fill in. Many native trees and bushes have been planted especially for the food resources they provide the birds. We have host plants to attract butterfly caterpillars. These have been selected because they provide an additional food source for birds when the butterflies lay their larva on the plants. I do anything I can to attract wildlife, from saucers of water on the ground (for the ones that can’t reach), to multiple bird baths and tubing under bushes for salamanders and skinks to hide in.
Before we moved in, there wasn’t one bird house on the property, but now there are many–bluebird, wren, woodpecker, and Purple Martin houses. We also have a nest shelf. I feed black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, thistle and peanuts to the birds over the winter. Hummingbird feeders go up when the hummingbirds are heading my way in the spring. Water is always available, a heated bird bath is used in the winter (a must have for any size yard) and a fountain is running during the warmer months. We let the fence-line and wildflower areas get “weedy” so they provide hiding places for wildlife and nesting materials for birds. White Clover, Tall Goldenrod, Common Milkweed and dandelion are allowed to grow where they come up–great nectar for the pollinators. And milkweed is so critical to help the monarchs. I still need to get a bat house and kestrel house installed and someday a fishless pond for the toads and frogs.
Once the trees are mature, I hope to attract chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. Our yard is a never ending project and every year more and more plants will be added for the wildlife. We aim to cover all layers needed for biodiversity (see Story of Stories poster) and to shrink the non-native lawn. With the Citizen Science, Feeder Watch Program, I’m really learning to look individually at each bird who visits our feeders and make sure it’s what I think it is and not the same species as the rest of the flock. In 2014, I took the Master Naturalist training, and in addition to the volunteer time I already spend in nature preserves with invasive species removal and prescribed burns, I’ve learned the importance of teaching others and sharing what I know so they can improve their own yards.
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?")
In 2014, one highlight I had was looking out my kitchen window while doing dishes and spotting two Cedar Waxwings. They were about ten feet away breaking the stems off the goldenrod from the previous year and using them to build a nest in a sycamore. Other highlights were the addition of native bushes and trees, which attract numerous birds and provided food and shelter. We don’t use chemicals and we think this may influence the steady increase in bird activity on our property.
I discovered Dickcissel, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Song Sparrow and Northern Cardinal nests. Purple Martins nested one year. Brown Thrashers visit every year and forage in the leaves under the bushes (we don’t rake the leaves, which provides another food source for birds). In 2006, the yard was designated a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat. Once I improve the fencing for the wildflowers areas to keep the dogs out, I will get more butterfly nectar and host plants and see about becoming a Monarch Waystation. Since we are the best resource for native bird food, water, and shelter, it’s a great treat to be able to look out my window and know the birds and wildlife are there because they are benefiting from my yard. They choose to be here because we are providing them with ideal habitat, in an area otherwise denude of it.
Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?
Who doesn’t love the smell of Japanese honeysuckle flowers? It’s a smell I grew up with. But it wasn’t a tough decision to remove it since I know the damage the vines can do on nature preserves and native trees. What little bit of honeysuckle that was here from the previous owner has been removed. We do our best to learn the invasive plants in our area and not allow them in our yard. The only tough, but necessary, choice is letting nature takes it course. We have a Cooper’s Hawk that regularly visits the yard and hunts the songbirds. Big rat snakes are scary at times, if you see them unexpectedly, but that just shows the yard can support them. We let the plants do their thing, if it’s native and flourishing somewhere in the yard, we leave it alone. This is not a well-manicured lawn full of chemicals and that is the way the wildlife likes it. So we keep and maintain more friendly habitat for them.
There are pictures of our property on our YardMap page, but you can also see more photos on our Flicker page.