Living rural in the city is great – you can do it, too.

Tag: Redevelop (page 2 of 2)

Wild birds need water in winter

I enjoy looking after the birds out back. Even out front, as the Virginia creeper produced berries that the starlings raided one day. Enough berries remain that the house sparrows come and get some from time to time.

It’s good to have plants that produce food for birds, and also a water source. Since September, pairs and trios of chickadees come by, and I’ve seen many different warblers come and have a prolonged drink in my pond. My pond is what makes my backyard home to so many creatures, besides myself.

So today, I heard a bird out there that sounded unusual, but I couldn’t see it. I’m reasonably sure it was a Northern Cardinal again, but if it was a Downy Woodpecker, as has happened before, I hope he or she comes back. I hope some Dark-eyed Juncos and some Common Redpolls visit, or at least a White-throated Sparrow, as one stayed at my feeder for a week a couple of winters ago.

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Wild rabbits in town

I took this photo of a wild rabbit that has made my parents’ front lawn and garden hedge part of its territory. She, or he, stayed stock-still, just a few rotations of the ears, resting under a tree out front, out of the rain. Then, it headed down the side stairs to the back yard, where it roams between my parents’ and their many neighbours. So long as there are plenty of dandelions and other herbs to eat, and shelter from predators, it need not be endangered.

Of course, most people would welcome sharing a yard with wildlife, but some gardeners and some dogs may make their parts hostile. Let’s hope this rabbit has a good den and is well-prepared for the winter.

But that made me wonder:

How do rabbits survive in winter?

I know about the Snowshoe Hare, and how it changes from brown in the summer to white in the winter. Do they, like deer, forage under the snow for the previous summer’s vegetation?

As is often the case, this is not an original question; others have looked for the answer before me. This page is about how to identify the five lagomorphs native to Canada. And this page is about what rabbits do in winter. They form “rabbit highways” in the snow from place to place. They need thickets of woods and vegetation like wild raspberry patches. When farmers rip out hedgerows and small woods along their property and fences, they eliminate habitat for many kinds of animals. I wish they wouldn’t do that. It directly and signficantly contributes to the endangerment of species.

Grandmother Wren, a blog for grandparents and their grandchildren, tells us that rabbits often use the burrows of other species – such as groundhogs and skunks – to overwinter. Share it with your kids, or tell others, about how other animals overwinter and the physical changes they go through for both hibernation and endurance.

I’m going to ask my parents to put some food out on a weekly basis so that “their” rabbit (like “my” skunk, living under my back deck) doesn’t have too far to roam to keep fed and healthy over the winter. Roaming increases its energy expenditure, and as Brits learned from 2010’s unusually cold winter in Europe, animals that do not migrate or hibernate need to conserve their energy against the cold. Do not disturb them unnecessarily.

Soil structure improvement – assisted by rodents

Dirt is a living expanse, it’s not supposed to be sterile. Over the years, the soil underneath my back deck has been a home to ground-dwelling bees, a rat or two, and a skunk. I don’t mind the wildlife, especially the skunk, who is a good neighbour (aside from eating my water lilies).

This week, I reconfigured the deck as I was changing the set up of this year’s garden. As I lifted various parts of the deck, I noticed the soil was quite moist and rich, sheltered from the heat. It had been tunnelled, turned, and fertilized by all the species of animals I know and don’t know. (Tip for dealing with the skunk’s latrine: throw down some dolomite lime).

I took a course at McGill in Organic Soil Fertilization late last year. I learned that my yard’s soil type is loamy clay (with a lot of rocks in it – I actually look forward to digging them out and collecting them on the surface, if they’re bigger than a quail egg).

I also learned that soil microfauna, like isopod “pill bugs,” centipedes, and worms, are essential for soil fertility. They are our little decomposer friends, grazing on bacteria, fungus, carbon sources, and occasionally on each other. Soil macrofauna, like rodents, amphibians, and others who burrow to make nests and passageways, are soil engineers. They are particularly responsible for distribution of seeds and nutrients.

I’ve since found a chapter, published in two different books on ecological management of rodents as pests (and not as pets as we know them over at Mooshika). The chapter Rodent-Ecosystem Relationships discusses the positive aspects of rodents in ecosystems. Considering how we belabour the economic damage they do to crops and the public health issue of plague (which isn’t that relevant over the past 100 years), this perspective is long overdue. Let’s hope it’ll take about a quarter as long to put those issues into their proper perspective.

I’d like to hope that we could be free of scapegoating rats and mice or any other creature as being  pests, but really, we must try to see them as they actually are. The above book chapter is a welcome addition to the literature. It’s by Dr. Chris Dickman, an Australian desert ecologist, of whom you can see on ABC Television here:

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