Gardening Antics: Watching Wildlife In The Garden

By Nikki Tilley | August 31, 2020
Image by Nikki Tilley
by Nikki Tilley
August 31, 2020

Being around plants makes me happy, but that’s not all. I’ve had a love of animals as far back as I can remember.

Watching Wildlife Feeds My Soul

There was a family of raccoons that would eat alongside our outdoor cats. I used to watch them and think how cool it was they got along. Daisy (yes, I name them) was a skunk that regularly wandered through the backyard. My mom is terrified of snakes, but not me – I used to catch them when the cats brought them home, and then release them elsewhere.

I spent a summer volunteering at the nature center caring for and feeding many different animals – from goats to turkeys and mini cows in the farmyard (cows, by the way, terrify me) to more adventurous species like peacocks, a great horned owl, a parrot, gopher tortoise, and python. There were reptiles to care for and ferrets to walk, a skunk too. I befriended a corn snake and fell in love with Ralph, the iguana. He enjoyed daily head scratches.

My Poppy used to have wildlife in his backyard. I visited one summer and got to help feed them. As I sat on the back stoop, my heart racing with excitement, little critters started coming out of the trees and right up to me…raccoons, an opossum, a skunk. Poppy handed me some fruit and reassured me it was okay (he’d been doing this for decades), so I held out my hand and the little skunk took a grape and scampered off. I was so amazed! I’ve kept this moment frozen in time, carrying it with me throughout my adult life.

While I don’t recommend getting that close to wildlife, I do think creating a wildlife habitat in your backyard is a beautiful thing. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that wildlife gardening benefits us all. I’ve always lived near wooded areas, so having wildlife around is natural for me. Still, I wanted to have an area of my garden specifically for them, a place where they’re welcome to visit and I’m able to enjoy them.

I planted a variety of native shrubs and perennials, added feeding stations and water features, and of course, a place for me to sit. I even had it certified. It’s only been a couple years now and the plants aren’t fully mature yet, but the wildlife still comes, and with the current staying-at-home situation, I have spent more time watching wildlife than before. In fact, Covid hasn’t slowed them down at all. They’re happily doing their thing – no social distancing required.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Antics

I don’t just have squirrels, I have “squigs”(squirrel-pigs). They have their own food but will literally eat all day long and seem to be consuming EVERYTHING this year, or is it that I’ve only just now noticed. Their gardening antics are fun to watch though. Pac-Man has claimed his own feeder but doesn’t mind the visiting blue jays or curious bunny (I call her Izzy). I was lucky enough to capture their first meeting.

I was worried at first, uncertain of how it would play out, but they started playing. It was funny watching as Pac-Man seemed confused as to why Miss Izzy couldn’t run up and around the tree with him like the other squirrels do. Now they all hang out together. I’ve witnessed a number of other critters eating, playing and getting along TOGETHER! Just mingling and enjoying life. Perhaps, we humans could learn from that. Diversity is welcome here (extraterrestrials too, but that’s another story)!

In addition to various plantings, I toss scraps out for them at the edge of the woods. Someone enjoyed an apple I left out there, only half eaten, so I’m assuming one of the rabbits, or a squirrel maybe. Do they eat apples? I figured the coons or possums would have eaten it entirely. There’s a well-worn path now just behind the garden into the wooded area. Something has been sleeping in a section of the garden just at tree line. I’ve been meaning to put a night camera out there. It’s a fairly large spot, perhaps a deer? There is one, Sam, that makes his rounds early in the morning, when it’s still dark. I’ve caught him (or is it a her) a couple times while walking the dog.

The birds enjoy the mulberries and wild cherry fruit almost as much as the bird seed and suet feeders. Woodpeckers galore are teeming with life this season. Toady still comes out each evening and even has a house in the garden. Fred, the little box turtle, enjoys time in the garden. I’ve had a young possum visit once. Then there’s Chip (he has a chipped ear), my other backyard rabbit. He likes to watch ME out in the garden, and will hop rather close just to see what I’m doing.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet spotted Little George this year, the black snake that was around last season. In years prior, there was Big George, who kept the mole population under control, until someone saw him crossing the road one evening and decided it would be fun to run him over, not once, but again and again. I’ve never been so angry. I had hoped Little George would stick around. I guess he found a home elsewhere (I need to believe that). The mole tunnels are an indicator of his absence, along with my latest visitor – Tiger, a chipmunk that finds my strawberries tasty and is always digging up my container plants. He, too, has been interesting to watch.

Oh, let’s not leave out my “buggies,” the good ones anyway. There’s the constant sound of buzzing bees and fluttering butterflies going from flower to flower, and so many more… ladybugs in the yarrow, praying mantis babies dancing amongst the foliage, garden spiders (and I normally dislike these) spinning webs and catching pesky insects. I even have a few lizards that make their home here and a couple bats that come out at night – my skeeter eaters. No chemicals needed here. I have wildlife for pest control. I miss having chickens, which are good for this too. I had both a hen and a rooster, Ethel and Ruben. They were quite affectionate and commonly took up residence in my lap for petting.

I could go on and on about wildlife in the garden. I have a natural love for animals, and plants make me happy too. What better way than to bring them all together in one place – a wildlife habitat we can all enjoy!

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