Looking for a way to make an environmental difference in your own yard, church grounds or condo complex by creating a sanctuary for wildlife using native plants and other resources? This friendly talk reviews the “whys and how” of supporting local wildlife, and how you can obtain an Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary Certification in your garden.
Speaker: Alyssa Ford Morel is an Extension Master Gardener, Master Naturalist and a former Audubon at Home Co-Coordinator for Arlington County.
Zoom session, recorded October 9, 2020
Video of Presentation
- 00:00 Introduction
- 10:32 Responsibility for caring for our environment
- 15:44 Audubon at Home Healthy Yard Pledge
- 16:26 Eliminate or reduce pesticide use
- 24:23 Questions
- 28:37 Conserve and protect water
- 40:23 Remove invasive exotic species
- 46:56 Questions
- 52:10 Plant native species
- 1:10:00 Support birds and other wildlife
- 1:20:36 Questions
- 1:22:20 Advantages to more sustainable grounds
- 1:25:03 Elements of the Audubon at Home program
- 1:26:48 Sanctuary Species
- 1:28:43 Questions
Follow-up on Questions and Further Information
Beneficial Insects Photos
One participant asked for a website with photos of beneficial insects in order to get better acquainted with them. Here are four that are worth looking at:
- Beneficial Insects in the Yard & Garden – University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension
- Common Name And Order Of 50 Insects – Purdue University Extension
- Beneficial Insects – Nature’s Pest Control – Cornell University Extension
- Beneficial Insects – Oklahoma State University Extension
Bt and Neem Oil
Questions were asked, separately, about Bt and Neem Oil and whether they could be harmful to beneficial insects. I would like to give a more information on them.
Bt, which stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, is a microbe naturally found in the soil. It makes a protein that is toxic to insect larvae. There are many types of Bt, and each targets a different insect group, and some of those groups include beneficial insects as well as problem insects. Bt is used in a number of pesticide products. Here is a fact sheet from the National Pesticide Information Center:
- Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) General Fact Sheet – Oregon State University – National Pesticide Center
Neem Oil is a botanical pesticide made from the seed of the Neem tree. It kills by smothering insects and disrupting insect hormones that control growth and reproduction. It is also used as a fungicide. It can kill both pests and beneficial insects. Here are two fact sheets on Neem Oil:
- Neem Oil General Fact Sheet – Oregon State University – National Pesticide Center
- What should neem be used for on plants? University of New Hampshire Extension
Both Bt and Neem Oil kill caterpillars, among other creatures, and I hope my presentation made clear how important caterpillars are in the balance of nature. Humans have regarded caterpillars as pests because they eat plants, but I have learned to see differently. Now, a hole in a leaf tells me that something has gotten a good meal. I further know that without caterpillars, our baby birds are doomed, so it would take a ridiculous amount of foliage to be eaten to make me start thinking there’s a problem.
The stance taken by Audubon at Home is that pesticides should be avoided if at all possible, and if used, done so in the most limited way possible with extreme care and strictly according to label directions. There may be occasions when limited use of a pesticide is warranted, and a type of Bt or Neem Oil may be appropriate, but we always encourage trying to address a pest problem first with the least toxic means possible, and to use pesticides as a last resort.
Dunks in Birdbaths
There was a question about the safety of using Dunks in birdbaths to control mosquitoes, and I said it is safe. That is true, but what I wish I had said was that it is far better to simply dump the water every two or three days and put in fresh. If you are taking care of your birdbath well, Dunks will be overkill, and why waste the money?
Here’s the deal, if your birdbath gets any traffic at all, it’s going to need to be changed every two or three days anyway. The birds will drink it, they will splash it out while bathing, they will poop in it, they will drop feathers in it. Leaves drop in the water. My birdbath is also frequently visited by squirrels and raccoons who also use it up and dirty it up. In the absence of rain, the water is generally low after a couple of days anyway, so I dump any water that is left into my garden, along with any nasty debris, and use a little scrub brush I keep handy to give a quick brush, dislodging anything unsavory, then rinse (either with a watering can or hose), dump the rinse water, and refill. Occasionally algae or something else starts resisting the scrub brush, and then I may use some vinegar or super-mild cleaners to scrub with, and rinse extremely well. You want the birds and other creatures to be drinking only pure, fresh water, not cleaning chemicals.
I spoke about preventing bird strikes against windows. If this is a problem you would have, here’s a helpful site that addresses it, how to prevent it, and how to help a bird that has hit your window:
- Why Birds Hit Windows—And How You Can Help Prevent It – The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Keeping Cats Indoors
If you have a cat that goes outdoors and you would like to train him or her to stay indoors, there’s a fair amount of advice available. Here are two sites with some good tips:
- Bringing Cats Indoors – Ohio State University College of Veterinary Sciences
- 7 Tips For Transitioning An Outdoor Cat To Indoors – I ❤️ Cats
I mentioned two books by Douglas W. Tallamy that I highly recommend for further reading:
- Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Douglas W. Tallamy, 2007.
- Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, Douglas W. Tallamy, 2019.