KENNEWICK -- Residents of the Tri-City region are fortunate with so many wildlife preserves and sanctuaries within a short distance for viewing native wildlife such as elk, coyote, rabbits, a variety of birds, waterfowl, hawks, eagles, and more.
However, creating one's own backyard wildlife sanctuary that encourages birds, insects and other friendly creatures into your own backyard can be enjoyable and rewarding too.
It is easy to create a backyard haven for wildlife birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and bats. Even apartment or condo residents can help restore badly needed habitat and attract wildlife to their little corner of the world simply by providing food and water for these creatures. Gardeners with more space can also furnish places for them to hide from predators and somewhere for rearing young.
A good first step in starting a backyard habitat for wildlife is providing food. This can be as simple as putting up bird and squirrel feeders, but also includes growing garden plants that provide pollen, nectar, leaves, fruit, and nuts for food.
In addition to food, wildlife needs water for drinking and bathing. Clean bird baths, fountains, and water gardens are relished by birds and bees. Butterflies like muddy little puddling areas for their needed moisture.
It makes sense that wildlife needs food and water, but it also requires plants or materials that will provide them with cover from predators, people and bad weather. Cover includes dense shrubbery, ornamental grasses and even brush piles. Birds appreciate trees that allow them high perches, keeping them out of reach of cats and dogs. Manmade homes, if constructed correctly for their needs, also can provide needed protection. So you may want to look into bird, bat and even butterfly houses.
The cover you provide for protection also may serve as a safe place for wildlife to raise a family. Don't just think about birds, bats and butterflies; there also are bees to accommodate. Look for mason bee boxes to encourage these hard working pollinators in your garden.
During the winter months, watching birds visit well stocked feeders is a delightful distraction from dreary gray days. Birds will continue to provide a show during the summer, but docile honey bees buzzing in and out of flowers along with the bigger, noisier, fuzzier bumblebees also can be entertaining.
However, the "piece de resistance" in any backyard habitat has to be hummingbirds. A gardener's greatest delight comes when efforts to attract hummingbirds are rewarded by visits from sweet tiny "hummers." Encouraging hummingbirds isn't quite as simple as putting out feeders. These little birds are attracted to red flowers and tend to gather nectar from red, orange and pink tubular flowers. Some of their favorites are trumpet vine, salvia, penstemon, coral bells, columbine, fuschia, honeysuckle, hollyhock, nasturtium and petunias.
Hummingbird feeders can be used to supplement the nectar from garden flowers, but it is important to use only clean feeders with fresh syrup solution, one made from sugar and not containing food coloring. To keep hummingbirds from getting sick, the feeder should be cleaned each time the syrup is changed, which should be every four to five days in hot weather.
Whether it is hummingbirds, butteflies or bees, you easily can create a yard that is wildlife friendly and provides needed habitat.
To learn how your yard can become a Certified Wildlife Habitat along with the almost 150,000 others in the country, just visit the National Wildlife Federation's website and fill out a form indicating the actions you've taken.
You can find them at www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Outdoor-Activities/Garden-for-Wildlife.aspx.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.