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If you build it, they will come...

SHELBURNEIf you create a nice habitat for birds, everything else will follow. Such was the opinion expressed by Craig Newman of the Outreach for Earth Stewardship organization at a recent workshop at Shelburne Farms on creating a backyard habitat. Newman shared ideas on ways to make any yard both wildlife friendly and safe to a small gathering in the Education Center at Shelburne Farms on Wednesday, April 11. While a backyard habitat may already sound like a good idea, Newman first asked the group what might be a reason someone would want to create one. Among the possible reasons for wanting to create a home for birds and other animals, he also suggested environmental benefits, pleasing aesthetics, lessening the impact of development (which he said is especially important living in Chittenden County), is arguably lower maintenance and less labor intensive than maintaining a well-manicured lawn, is educational, and has the health benefits of outside work. After determining multiple reasons why building a backyard habitat is appealing, the next step was to make a plan for creating one. During the presentation, Newman stressed not to overlook the big picture: determine the form and function of a proposed habitat, whether it be 10 acres or a four by 100 foot lot. Supplying diversity by providing more than one type of planting, and creating a four season habitat also fell under the big picture of habitat-making, as well as a back-to- basics remembering of the essential needs of any living organism: food, water, shelter, and space. When providing a habitat for animals, Newman also noted to keep safety in mind, giving the example Dont plant fruit bearing trees along the highway, and warned of the negative aspects of lawn mowing during his so-called soap box portion of the workshop. While lawn mowing may seem harmless enough, those perfectly groomed grasses create a monoculture that does not provide nutrients for birds (or any of the other animals that will follow) while also using a lot of energy--human energy and otherwise. Newman provided statistics to support his personal distaste for lawn mowers: Did you know, according to the EPA, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns, using 800 million gallons of gas per year and producing tons of air pollutants? That and other scary statistics were revealed at last Wednesdays workshop. Following the lawn mower lecture, Newman went on to describe in detail a variety of ways to provide each of the essential needs--for living organisms and for creating a habitat--for anyones backyard, be it a rural expanse or a suburban corner. In each case, variety was a key component to attracting an array of birds, butterflies, small mammals, insects, and even the predators that come along with any natural habitat. If you feed birds, youll also provide for other critters-maybe inadvertently, he said. Bird feeders work in more than one way. Although predators of birds that are naturally occurring such as hawks and raptors are part of any ecosystem, domestic cats, said Newman are a major problem, and if you attract birds...you also attract free roaming cats. Contrary to popular belief, domestic cats are not a part of the natural ecosystem, he said, and listed the problems that come along with these free-roaming felines. The presentation, though factual, was punctuated by beautiful nature photography that added both pizzazz and humor to the lesson in habitat building. Afterward, there was a quiz on which only the most advanced nature experts would have gotten a passing grade. If spring does come, those present at the workshop will have plenty of ideas on how to get started in creating a backyard habitat of their own.

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