Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Why should we care about building and restoring habitat in the spaces we call home? Consider the multitude of gifts nature has for us, and you'll be buzzing to get out there and give back.
Healthy ecosystems operate effectively, efficiently and in abundance. Earth provides many "free services" that we tend to overlook or take for granted. Pollination, for example, just seems to happen. We plant our seeds, water the sprouts, and expect fruit. We even spray the plant to keep the "pests" away. While some bugs are harmful (only because we've created an imbalance - but that's another blog topic), we are actually harming ourselves when we try to remove them all. We all know how important bees are, and yet we poison them anyway. And we overlook the millions of other species of insects and animals ready and willing to do their essential job and pollinate our plants so we can enjoy the blooms and eat the fruit.
Every being on Earth is essential to the health and survival of the whole, and we all depend on each other. Put simply, without the pollinators and beneficial insects playing their roles in the ecosystem, we don't survive. And without us, at this point, they won't survive either.
As poignantly expressed by the Audubon Society:
"Over the past century, urbanization has taken intact, ecologically productive land and fragmented and transformed it with lawns and exotic ornamental plants. The continental U.S. lost a staggering 150 million acres of habitat and farmland to urban sprawl, and that trend isn’t slowing. The modern obsession with highly manicured 'perfect' lawns alone has created a green, monoculture carpet across the country that covers over 40 million acres. The human-dominated landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems, and the remaining isolated natural areas are not large enough to support wildlife."
When we talk about building habitat for wildlife, LadyBug's main focus is to support pollinators. Who are the pollinators? Birds, bees, butterflies, moths, small mammals and other beneficial insects - even bats, and many wasps and beetles!
Why should we care so much about bugs?
Modern life has estranged us from appreciating bugs, and has even caused many of us to have serious phobias in their presence. In reality, we depend on pollinators and beneficial insects for the food we eat (one in every three bites). We depend on bugs for the flowers blooming in our gardens and for every piece of fruit and veg we consume. A functional ecosystem, and our very own lives, totally depends on insects.
That means we also have to do our part to support them!
How to Invite More Wildlife (and bugs!) into Your Space
• Plant Native to support the birds, beneficial insects and pollinators native to your bioregion.
An estimated 90% of native plants rely on pollinators to reproduce, rather than water or wind. Plants and pollinators native to the same bioregion have evolved together over centuries to be familiar to each other, and to provide proper nutrition, biological signals and ecosystem services. Introduced plants can be unrecognizable to native pollinators, nutritionally inadequate, or potentially even poisonous.
• Leave the Leaves, standing stalks and seed heads for food and shelter.
Did you know? About 30% of native bees in our bioregion are stem-nesters, meaning that they use the standing stalks of pithy plants like Joe-pye weed, echinacea, goldenrod, mountain mint, elderberry and wild bergamot to shelter and nest through the winter. They depend on this habitat to protect them until they emerge in Spring. Be sure to leave standing stalks for pollinators until after temperatures are consistently above 50*F, to give them time to emerge!
• Build Wildlife Bundles!
Winter is the perfect time to collect fallen brush and debris to create wildlife bundles. A simple brush pile placed away from human traffic gives shelter to many small mammals, birds and amphibians. Even a simple pile of sticks or logs in the corner of a lot is excellent habitat.
To keep bigger piles a bit more tidy, try this bundling method. If you see grapevine, English Ivy or Virginia Creeper stifling trees, use loppers to clip what you can reach without yanking it down, taking care not to damage bark or break branches - and be sure it's not poison ivy!
Next, gather sticks and debris into a bundle, weave vines through, wrap them around to secure debris, and "tie" them off by sticking the ends into the bundle. See an example below of the LadyBugs making wildlife bundles at Horn Farm!
Note: Virginia Creeper is a wonderful native vine that belongs in our ecosystem, and can coexist with trees. However, it's very prolific, and its abundance can be put to good use for a project like this!
Remember: Habitat is Everywhere.
From bundles to standing stalks, butterfly puddles and bat houses, wildlife is resilient and finds ways to survive in human-dominated landscapes. Give them a lift by providing as much food, water and shelter as you can in your space, and spread the word that native habitats aren't messes! Observe and enjoy the natural beauty thriving all around you.
Become a Certified Wildlife Habitat This Year!
The National Wildlife Federation offers guidelines for what is required to make your space an official Certified Wildlife Habitat. Not only is it the best way to support pollinators, but you'll also get a sign to display that will help to educate neighbors about the importance of habitat, and how beautiful it can be. Start a movement in your neighborhood!
Download this checklist to learn how to build habitat for pollinators and get certified.