Backyard Habitats – Lesson 5
Over the last four weeks we have explored several different backyard habitats that wildlife could use. We have looked at leaf litter/mulch (Lesson 2), Logs (Lesson 3), and rocks (Lesson 4). All of these are on the ground and most of them support small organisms like bugs and skinks.
Today we will look up. The trees in your yard provide habitat for a variety of creatures – particularly birds and mammals, but also a lot of insects. Let’s take a look.
The two groups of creatures that stand out when I look into the trees are birds – all sorts of birds – and squirrels. But what is interesting is that they do not use each type of tree equally.
In my yard I have primarily oak trees. But there are palms, dogwood, pine trees, and the invasive Chinese tallow (yep.. still have it in my yard). The Chinese tallow was given to me by a friend many years ago, who has since passed away – and I have had a hard time cutting because of that. But I also began to watch and see if wildlife used the tree in any way. Honestly, they do not. They may use it to transport from one oak to the pine, and some birds will rest in it briefly, but I rarely see anything in it. Time to cut it down and replace with a native tree – I agree.
They do not really use the palms much either – but I get that, there is not much habitat for them to use. I will say the green anoles love the palms, and the monarch caterpillars love to form their chrysalis in them – so they will stay. I kind of like them to.
My backyard wildlife like to use the pine trees – though they do not nest in them. I know in the pine forest in the north end of the county, red-cockaded woodpeckers love using old longleaf pine for their nests – they need them. But in my yard, most of the birds use it to perch and sing – and then move on. Squirrels really enjoy the pinecones. They sit up there gnawing on them and then dropping the uneaten portion on the ground, and sometimes on our roof with a loud bang. There are several large pines in our block and the squirrels frequently them a lot.
But it is the oaks they really like. Squirrels and birds both spend a lot of time there. These is where I find the nests and where I see a lot of territorial battles between them. There are some large oaks on the block that are quite tall and have dead branches at the top. We frequently see several species of hawks perched there – scouting the squirrels and birds for dinner. And at night we do encounter owls and bats. Though we do not see these guys during the daylight hours, we are pretty sure they are using the oaks as shelter awaiting their evening hunts.
Since we have begun these lessons, I have not seen any raccoons, but we have seen them living in our oaks. Not too long ago, I saw flying squirrels coming from the Ole Oak I have mentioned in previous lessons. Needless to say, these oaks are important backyard habitat.
Each morning we hear the birds begin to sing JUST before sunrise. They are great alarm clock and let me know it is time to get up and write. While writing I see the squirrels are up and moving, beginning their day. We see a lot of different birds using our trees but the most common are cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, wrens, crows, mourning doves, mockingbirds, and brown thrashers. We see osprey and hawks every day – but they are not nesting in our yard. Occasionally we will see hummingbirds (not sure where they are nesting), Mississippi Kites, herons and egrets flying by. I know that the herons are nesting near the bayou, and I know they Kites are nesting somewhere nearby – but not in our yard. And occasionally… we see a bald eagle fly over. Very cool!
Each evening the birds and squirrels settle, and the bats come out. I cannot say the bats are roosting in our ole oak tree or not, but they are roosting somewhere nearby.
Trees are good for backyard habitats and they actually help cool your house during the hot Florida days. I encourage to plant some if you do not have any.
– It is supposed to rain really hard here in Pensacola today – so I am not sure you will be able to get outside. But if you can, check out the trees and see how many species of birds are hanging out. Do you have any squirrels?
– If it does rain, glance out the window and see if anyone is moving during the storm. Probably not, but many will come out right after. That will be a good time to look.
– If you do not have any trees in your yard, take a walk (or bike ride) around the neighborhood and check out others.
HAVE FUN AND STAY SAFE