When I was young it seemed that there was always wildlife in the yard. The large basswood trees in the back yard by the river were covered with bees of all sorts in early summer- you could hear their hum as soon as you stepped out the door. Thousands and thousands of them, high up in the 50-foot-tall trees, never paying any attention to the humans below.
On either side of the basswood were red and burr oaks, frequently visited by red-headed woopeckers. On the south side of the house was a spindly European mountain ash my dad had planted. It didn’t live long, maybe 15 or 20 years, but it’s bark held evidence of visiting sapsuckers which scarred it with rows of horizontal holes. And even though it wasn’t a healthy tree, each summer into fall it produced enough orange berries to attract robins and cedar waxwings. Due south from the mountain ash, just off our yard and by the chicken coop, was a hawthorn, or thornapple tree as my dad called it. After the berries were gone from the mountain ash the birds moved over to the hawthorn to eat the tiny red apples, which we as kids sampled as well.
On the east and north side were balsam fir which bore cones in winter, and to the north were lilacs which provided cover for birds. Up the driveway were apple trees of unknown variety and a single pear tree. The pear didn’t hold on to it’s fruit very long, but the apples provided scabby, wormy treats for young people in summer and fall, and birds in the winter and early spring, followed by more flowers to feed the pollinators. No wonder there was so much wildlife so close to our house. One couldn’t help notice and wonder about everything going in the world outside.
With the exception of the mountain ash, those trees are still there, and still providing food and cover for birds. Not all of them are native to Wisconsin, but those that aren’t also are not invasive. All can be incorporated into home or community landscaping to aid wildlife. Apples, either the eating varieties, hawthorns, or crabapples- all provide fruit for birds and other animals, although some are better than others. And lots of flowers for bees and other native pollinators. The mountain ash, European or better yet the American species, provides fruit that is greedily consumed by migrating birds at a time of year when they dearly need the energy the berries provide. Cover trees like balsam fir or spruce retain warmth, and birds roosting overnight can enjoy temperatures that are up to 20 degrees warmer than in open air. They make our yards more attractive both for wildlife and people, and close contact with wildlife contributes to our well-being.
We’re going to be doing a lot of planting this year to develop more bird-friendly public places near our preserve. Different apples, berries, and cover trees will be an important part of each site’s plan.
That reminds me, its time to knock down a few dried apples from the tree by the driveway to treat the deer- it’s going to be another below-zero night! But we’re sure to leave some for the robin that’s been hanging around all winter- he’ll be hungry in the morning.