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March 17. 2014 3:10PM

Habitat at home

Your yard could be a certified wildlife habitat


Nancy Caswell of Jaffrey looks out over the landscape in her back yard where birds and beasts flock. Caswell‚s property has become a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. (Nancy Bean Foster Photo)

JAFFREY -- From the balconies of city apartment buildings to the rolling fields of family farms, residents throughout New Hampshire have created wildlife habitats, and for their efforts they have been given a nod by the National Wildlife Federation.

Since 1973, the National Wildlife Federation has been offering a program to officially certify properties as wildlife habitats as a motivation for property owners to provide the things creatures large and small need to thrive and to raise their young, said David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the federation.

"We can restore elements of habitats in cities and towns by what we plant in our gardens," said Mizejewski, who is regularly featured on talk shows and morning news programs. "You don't need a ton of land and it doesn't matter where you live or how much money you have. You can be doing good things."

Creating a habitat is about more than simply putting out bird feeders. The goal is to establish natural environments that animals, birds, insects and amphibians need in order to thrive. Planting fruit-bearing trees can feed birds throughout the winter. Creating or protecting a vernal pool that fills in the spring and dries in the summer heat gives salamanders a place to breed. Small trees, nesting boxes, and container-planted butterfly bushes can create a home for birds and butterflies.

To become a Certified Wildlife Habitat, home owners must provide four core things: food, water, shelter, and a place for raising their offspring.

"There is an infinite number of ways you can provide those core things," said Mizejewski.

Leaving trees that have fallen can give woodpeckers a place to hang out, while thick stands of hemlock can provide deer with cover from the snow. One of the habitats that are hard to come by in New Hampshire these days is meadowland, said Mizejewski. Between the decrease in the use of land for farming, the increase in housing developments and the rapid expansion of forests in the state, meadows and pastureland are beginning to disappear, which makes things hard for creatures like deer, who feed on new growth, along with humming birds and eastern meadowlarks, he said.

In Jaffrey, Nancy Caswell blends the natural habitats available on her property with some human touches to make life a bit easier for animals and birds. A small stream and four heated bird baths provide water. Bird and bat houses, along with areas of dense wild shrubs, are home to bluebirds, chickadees, and even Baltimore orioles. Turkeys, deer, and birds of many colors visit the Caswell's home all year long, but her favorite guests are the chimney swifts who flock to her home each May.

"We get hundreds of them every year," said Caswell, who owns a brick home with four chimneys that give the returning birds a place to nest.

Chimney swifts build hanging nests in the mortar between the bricks in the chimneys and lay their diminutive eggs. The birds have spikes on their tails that allow them to hang on the bricks and roost when they're not out buzzing around eating insects.

"It's amazing to watch them drop down into the chimneys all at once," Caswell said.But urban settings are also great for certified wildlife habitats. The children at the Infant Jesus School in downtown Nashua have created their own special place, said art teacher Edith Couchman.

"We have plants that produce berries and offer shelter and we provide the water that the little guys need," Couchman said. Though a plum tree that once provided plenty of sustenance for birds had to be taken out because of disease, it's due to be replaced this spring.

"We have butterflies, beetles, hummingbird moths and all kinds of invertebrates visit," said Couchman, "but we've also become popular with the neighborhood cats."

The students at the school have a chance to experience nature up close and personal, which is wonderful, especially in the city, said Couchman.

A lot of people in New Hampshire already have what it takes to become certified by the Natural Wildlife Federation, said Mizejewski, and need only to go through the certification process to make it official.

For more information, along with a list of plants and other tips for creating habitats, visit www.nwf.org/garden.

nfoster@newstote.com


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