Backyard Unintentionals

Landscape / Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

I slowly removed the nail that holds the door to the Bluebird house tightly closed. We haven’t had a nesting pair of Bluebirds yet and I was excited at the possibility of one being in there now. I carefully opened the door and there she is, looking right back at me — a gray and white, big-eyed Southern Flying Squirrel. Another one of our Backyard Unintentionals.

We’ve worked to create a backyard that attracts wildlife for over twenty years, having added stonewalls, perennial gardens, shrubs and trees. I believe we’ve done a fairly good job of it, but we’re always learning and adjusting to the many surprises, or Backyard Unintentionals, we encounter on a yearly basis.

One of the ways we encourage birds in our yard is the placement of bird houses, using a variety of houses to attract specific types of birds with unintended successes. The houses have indeed brought nesting pairs to the yard, even some birds.

I placed an Eastern Screech Owl house about fifteen feet high on a Swamp Maple tree. I’ve seen and heard Eastern Screech Owls in the woods and thought this house would surely attract a nesting pair. It’s been the home of a pair of Eastern Gray Squirrels ever since. Our wren houses have actually worked from time to time. However, many times the House Wrens have chosen more interesting places such as hanging flower pots above our deck, the propane tank and even a bird feeder, empty for only a day or two, to build a nest and raise their young.

An Eastern Gray Squirrel munching on an acorn.

Patio Unintentionals

Not everything we’ve added to the backyard has been to attract wildlife, or so we thought. A stone patio with a fire pit surrounded by a retaining wall was definitely built for human enjoyment. But, who knew that it would also entice a number of reptiles. I wasn’t surprised that Garter and Ringed-neck Snakes would find the wall appealing but I didn’t expect a four foot long Eastern Black Rat Snake to spend a summer there. Our patio has also been a nesting ground for Snapping Turtles. I’ve collected up to 35 hatchlings from a single nest, releasing them in the wetlands behind our house. This past summer there were three turtle nests, the most ever, all hatching at night and leaving just a hole where the hatchings came into the world.

An Eastern Garter Snake suns itself on our patio stone wall.

FACT: The Eastern Black Rat Snake can climb trees up to 40 feet high. They eat eggs from nests, swallowing them whole and breaking them in their throat.

 Live Science

I might have been most startled in the patio when pulling up a weed in front of some lavender a worm came to the surface. As I reached to put the worm back in the ground a Bullfrog, about the size of my foot, jumped from under the herb and, with a quick snap of it’s tongue, swallowed the worm!

I love these Backyard Unintentionals. Our attempts at guiding, and somewhat controlling, nature has proven both unsuccessful and surprisingly enjoyable. The unexpected happenings in a backyard are there all the time if we choose to notice them. Let’s pay close attention this year. I’m betting there’s a Backyard Unintentional just around the corner of your yard.

OBSERVATION: I’m sometimes surprised by the choices birds make for their nesting sites. I’ve witnessed both a pair of Robins and Cardinals making nests not far off the ground and not very well hidden. They both invariably were raided before the nestlings could fledge. I’m guessing these are first timers learning tough but valuable lessons.