There are as many varied opinions about wildlife (and not-so-wildlife) in the garden as there are gardeners. And most of these opinions are strong. Feed them or not? Chase them away or accept them? These are questions and concerns that can have long-term consequences – either positive or negative – and that affect not just one garden but nearby gardens, as well. Many people feel that if bird feeders are used, the feeders just invite squirrels, rats, crows, and other ‘pest’ creatures that are viewed as opportunistic. Other people believe that it is our responsibility to feed creatures – most frequently birds – because of declining populations of native birds world-wide. And, they’re cute. Some people leave feeders out year-round. Other people feed creatures during winter only. After years of struggling with this issue, many trials and a few errors, I have found the philosophy and its manifestation that works best for my garden, and its neighboring landscapes.
In late autumn, after seeds and berries that my garden supplies have been consumed, I put out a ground feeder of a variety of nuts and seeds for whomever comes by. This feeder is used through winter and put away in very early spring. I fill it once every other day, early in the morning, and it is empty by the afternoon of the second day. I watch it closely and have never seen rats at the feeder. This may be because of the very large, active population of outdoor cats in my neighborhood, as well as a Cooper’s hawk and a coyote. On those rare occasions that a large group of crows come by, I will remove the feeder for a number of days before using it again. This has proved successful in discouraging all but one crow – the crow who has been gardening with me for many years. (This remarkable, opinionated, and highly intelligent bird recently left ‘home’ for the spring, but has returned twice this month. Time will tell if he returns to stay, or has moved on to better feeding grounds.)
We live close to a 216 acre, forested city park that is almost 100 years old and is home to eagles, herons, hawks, skunks, and coyotes, in addition to many other animals. But though large, this park land is not adequate for the amount of wildlife it houses. Because of this, I supply food, water, and shelter for wildlife year-round in addition to the supplemental food as outlined above. These creatures have enhanced my life in the garden in ways that few other experiences have. I believe it is important to share my small plot of land with the abundant life that surrounds it. After all, they need the land as much as I.