By CHARLOTTE WOLTER | Special to the Palisadian-Post
Habitat is life. Every living creature needs a habitat that includes the essentials: food, water, shelter and a place to raise young. But what if your habitat is in short supply?
That’s the crisis faced by many wild creatures today, including birds. Natural plants have been replaced by plain lawns with no fruit, seeds or shade. Streams run dry or become undrinkable. The hollow trees that used to shelter nests are cut down.
“The North American bird population has decreased by 2.9 billion breeding adults over the past 50 years, a net loss of 29%,” according to the Wild Birds Unlimited website. “Scientists have identified habitat loss as the biggest reason for the decline.”
What’s to be done? The National Wildlife Federation has a solution, one that almost any family or home can do: Garden for Wildlife.
Some residents of the Palisades are already part of the solution, making their homes and yards into true gardens for wildlife and getting certified officially by the National Wildlife Federation.
To get people started, the NWF website has a checklist of what to add or take away from your yard to make it a Garden for Wildlife, such as adding water for birds and ending the use of pesticides.
“I went through the checklist, and we had a lot of the items already,” said Palisades resident Lynn Irvine, “but what it made me think about was stopping pesticides. Then we added a little more water plus milkweed and other flowering pants.”
“And for lots of people it would be easy,” said Marie Steckmest, a longtime resident who volunteers as the garden teacher at Marquez Charter Elementary School. “I want to do it at the school. We just have to add the water.”
Make sure it’s moving water, she added.
Bringing in native plants is especially important in the Palisades, both say, because it is so close to natural areas.
“Those include the sages and [native] buckwheat,” Steckmest shared. “Plant deer grass rather than invasive Mexican feather grass … the best milkweed is native milkweed, which is thin leaf.”
Some non-native plants also are winners for wildlife, said Steckmest, such as Mexican sage or hot red salvia, whose bright flowers are a favorite, pineapple sage or butterfly bush.
Sometimes it’s best to do less: “Stop gardeners from using blowers,” Irvine said.
“When gardeners blow off the first layer of soil, they are ruining the soil,” not to mention the dust and pollution, Irvine added. “If you leave piles of leaves for a while, it is habitat.”
Also, “flowering plants not only bring in butterflies, the butterflies in turn produce caterpillars, which are food for birds. “
Both Irvine and Steckmest can proudly display the certifications they have received, and they want to encourage others to do the same.
Anywhere can be habitat, no expansive estate needed. A patio with a planter, a water bowl and a bird feeder can do as well as two acres of wild brush, if it’s planned with habitat in mind.
A great way to get started, Steckmest shared, would be to sign up by Earth Day, April 22 this year.
“Share it with your neighbors,” she suggested. Also, schools and civic groups can get certified.
“I’m a teacher, so, to me, if you can involve kids, that is a real plus, and it is beneficial to the environment,” Steckmest added.
For Irvine, the experience of getting the NWF certification was very important.
“It made me think about the system of life,” she said. “Just makes me feel better. Made me feel that I was contributing a little bit.”
Charlotte Wolter contributed this piece on behalf of Wild Birds Unlimited of Santa Monica, located at 12433 Wilshire Blvd. More information can be found at santamonica.wbu.com.
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