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It’s in your nature: Keep a natural area close to home

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    Greenbriars with their strong, sharp thorns can be a “pain” to hunters or hikers, but the berries in winter feed many birds while rabbits and birds eat the stems and foliage.

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    Not poisonous and not appreciated, staghorn sumac’s red velvety fruits provide winter food to robins, bluebirds, crows or starlings while rabbits sometimes survive heavy snow cover feeding on its bark.

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    Wild grapes as you can expect will produce fruits so helpful for wildlife. Don’t forget the value of the peeling bark used for nesting materials.

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    In a healthy forested woodlot or backyard, a dead hemlock trunk will provide feeding opportunities to many woodpeckers and nesting/hiding places for many other bird species.

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    The tufted titmouse is one bird that will quickly utilize nesting holes in a dead tree you didn’t remove. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published September 06. 2019 06:42PM

With an ever-growing population, our homes, businesses or strip malls keep encroaching into our fields, forests and wetlands. Some of you may have the opportunity, if your yard or lot size accommodates, to be able to preserve or reclaim a small piece of habitat.

I lived most of my life in East Penn Township on a 1-acre plot of land. The home, garage, orchard and garden gobbled up much of that. When we built our home, I planted mountain ash, Bradford pears, pin oaks and spruce trees. Obviously, much of that landscaping was done to help cool the home and appreciate its value, but I chose certain varieties that I felt would help feed or protect some birds and mammals.

I felt that wasn’t enough, though. In the remotest corner I planted a choke cherry tree, some staghorn sumac and autumn olive. After the second winter I saw the rewards of those wild plants. In January and February, the sumac’s fruits were feeding bluebirds and robins, as were the autumn olive fruits. In summer, the small cherries were sating cedar waxwings, robins and starlings. I let that corner of the property remain “wild.”

If your property is wooded, you may want to reserve a portion of it as a “mini reserve.” The gypsy moths or emerald ash borers may have killed some oaks or ash trees, or maybe that 80-year-old red maple is dying. You may not want to be hasty to cut them down. (Obviously a tree posing a threat to home or children is a different situation.)

Soon after dying, these trees host beetles and ants craved by woodpeckers. These also become good trees for them to excavate nest cavities. Woodpeckers seldom reuse these holes, but chickadees, titmice, tree swallows, bats, etc. will take advantage of the opportunities.

In that same “corner” of your property, vines and wild shrubs will begin to grow. Not a hunter’s or landowner’s favorite, greenbriers may be one of them. Yes, their thorns are to be respected, but the nice crop of its small blue fruits will feed many bird species in winter. Cottontail rabbits and deer eat the stems. If a wild grape vine begins to grow there you might try to feed (fertilize) it to encourage more growth.

The ripening grapes in summer feed many birds and mammals, and those that remain to wither on the vines will feed turkeys or hungry robins. The peeling bark of the grape vine is used by many birds, even squirrels, to line their nests. Blackberries could be left to grow, offering food and nesting habitat, too. These mini sanctuaries take little effort on your part and will provide you with wildlife viewing opportunities.

I always encourage you to get out there to see what nature offers, but by doing this little project it may offer you sightings right in your own backyards, and more importantly, provide food and/or shelter to some of those same animals you like to see.

Test your outdoor knowledge: Generally, more than other woodpeckers, the _____ woodpecker’s fall/winter diet includes poison ivy and other winter fruits. A. pileated, B. hairy, C. downy

Last week’s trivia: It is true that usually the only difference between the male and female woodpecker is the male’s red patch on his head, neck or face.

Contact Barry Reed at

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