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Feeding Stations & Creating Wildlife Habitats

We try to encourage wildlife to visit our ranch.  There are lots of obstacles to this process some of which are the neighbors dogs & cats, shrinking wildlife corridors (development), drought, wildfires  and the ignorance of property owners about what animals might be dangerous.  Cougars rarely come to our property anymore because we no longer have deer in the area.  Deer don't come for many reasons but topping the list is that every property owner in the area has dogs that scare them away.  It's a complex balance and the discussion can get heated and emotional.  On this page I will focus on how we're trying to overcome the obstacles and persuade the wildlife to return.

The Bird Houses & Feeders

Bird feeders are the most popular and well-known form of what I call "Feed Stations". They're easy and they provide almost instant gratification.  Bird feeders can be approached from many angles.  You can throw some bread crumbs out the back door or you can buy designer seed tailored to each species of bird. I'm new at this and I'm learning as I go along.

We started with a simple hummingbird feeder and now we're evolving to the more elaborate feeders. This is a photograph of a wild turkey visiting my first feeder and its taught me a few things.  For one, birds prefer to eat off the ground.  They will always clean up the seed I throw on the ground before they move to the feeder. Leaving seed on the ground has the advantage of providing room for more and different varieties of birds. Without an outdoor cat, I've felt safe in encouraging the birds in this way though I'm gradually weaning the birds to use the safer feeders.

It helps to have more than one feeder.  They get crowded and without room, the birds jostle and bully the milder birds. I've also had a problem with ground squirrels raiding the feeder and carting away days worth of seed in a matter of hours. I'm trying hanging the feeders rather than mounting them on poles and I've just ordered a Squirrel Proof Feeder that shuts off from the weight of the squirrel. More about our bird houses & feeders...


The Deer Feeder

Since the fire of 03' we've seen no deer in our area.  The paucity of undergrowth, poor food sources and dogs on neighboring properties have all contributed to this.  On the positive side, we have King Creek that flows through the property and provides a "fair" wildlife corridor from the upper elevations on Cuyamaca Peak. I say "fair" because the deer will still have to run the gauntlet of developed areas along the creek. (I'm not criticizing my neighbors as I include our place in that description).

When I worked for the State of California as an Irrigation Specialist they would occasionally send me to landscape seminars in other parts of the country. I found it interesting that in those areas, deer are considered a pest and people had to take extraordinary measures to deter them.

My plan is to provide a deer feeding station in one of the more isolated spots along King Creek. More about our deer feeding station here

You can also e-mail me and I will put you on an update list about my efforts.

The Water Holes

We live in drought country with blistering hot summers and months without rain.  Water isn't just important, it's imperative for encouraging wildlife to visit.  You don't have to build elaborate ponds with squirting fountains and ceramic frogs to encourage wildlife.  We're not building a theme park, we're looking for end results.  A simple dish pan sunk into the earth will work.

This is a photo of one of our small watering holes.  It's just an old sink basin that Catherine buried and surrounded with rocks.  She has it fed with a hose that slowly drips water causing a slight overflow which encourages the surrounding foliage. It's stocked with a couple of feeder fish from Wal-Mart who survive on mosquitoes and other bugs.  This tiny pond has croaking frogs and gets visits from raccoons, coyotes, bob-cats and hundreds of birds.


Some basics:

bulletThe water source must be consistent and reliable. If you don't keep the container full, the local wildlife won't form a habit of visiting.
bulletProvide a a safety raft for critters that fall in.  It can happen to small birds, lizards, rodents and even pets. We don't want to build a death trap so always make sure that you have rocks that reach the surface and a piece of wood or stick that hangs over the edge.
bulletMosquitoes will thrive if you don't take precautions. Backyard ponds with electric powered circulating pumps don't have a problem but our watering holes are spread out over 20 acres. We put in fish. More about our water holes...(more coming)


The Dead Trees - Also called snags or "Wildlife Trees"

Our property is dotted with trees that died from the drought or were burned in the 2003 firestorm.   Naturalist have started using the term "Wildlife Tree" to describe dead trees that provide a natural wildlife habitat.  If you look close, you can see that dead trees and brush provide homes for all sorts of flora and fauna.  The branches provide convenient perches, bugs help decompose the bark and provide food for birds and the holes provide nesting places for Woodpeckers, Flickers and Titmice.

Your obsessively neat neighbors might snicker about all this and some may become downright argumentative.  There's just something about country people and their chainsaws. I really think it's some sort of macho hang-up but they'll use every excuse in the book so they can fire up the old buzz saw. Often they'll evoke the safety argument and claim that they're just trying to protect "the children".  Many times the forest service will use the same rationales though when you dig a little deeper, you'll find that lucrative tree service contracts have more to do with it than safety.

Please pardon my cynicism. I've been reading too much Edward Abbey .