Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Best bat house: Turn your garden into a home for Bats

BatBnB is changing the world for gardeners and bats alike by encouraging and educating people about the benefits of Bats. The company hopes to convince people that there is no need for pesticides to reduce the mosquito population when you have bats that do the job much more efficiently.

Bats need help to survive and prosper?

BatBnB wants to change the world, but not just any world. They want to change the world of bats.

Their future, how they survive and where they live.

Most important, the BatBnB wants to change how humans see bats in the environment, and that includes our gardens. The Louisville, Kentucky company’s vision starts with eliminating the use of pesticides and replacing them with natural solutions – bats, and if they have their way, lots of them.

In fact, they want to change the minds of gardeners and convince them that every garden needs to encourage bats. In the Woodland Wildlife garden, bats fill a niche that is often left unfilled in our gardens. By bringing them into our garden we not only help improve our gardens, we also play an important role in helping these mammals recover their dwindling numbers.

Graphic showing various bat houses

Bat houses are an excellent way to create habitat for native bats which, in turn, help reduce mosquitoes in your yard.

BatBnB are not alone. More and more garden experts are recognizing the value of our native bats and are urging homeowners to help the bats any way they can. For some, that may mean eliminating pesticides and using more native plants in their gardens to encourage insects.

For others, putting up a large nesting box to create habitat and attract a small colony of native bats to control insects – especially mosquitoes – is the right direction.

Bat boxes are available in many styles, sizes and configurations from many different retailers ranging from specialized bird stores, to popular commercial and on-line outlets. Purchasing a high quality bat house will go a long way to provide a safe and enticing place for the bats to roost.

Placement of the house is also important.

Five tips to help Bats

• Eliminate all pesticides from your garden

• Provide a natural habitat like a woodland garden with trees, fruiting shrubs and flowers to attract insects.

• Offer evening- and night-blooming flowers as well as compost heaps that attract insects.

• Provide access to water in your garden. A fountain left on during the night is excellent but bird baths or natural ponds also work well.

• Add a high-quality bat house to the garden to provide a safe and comfortable environment for these incredible mammals.

The BatBnB team, consisting of only five fanatical bat lovers, are doing it many ways – through education about the importance of our native bats on their impressive website and by showing the world that providing a place for bats in our gardens is not only beneficial to the bats and the gardeners, but it can be done with a whole lot of style.

“We are all big bat fans and want to see these animals thrive,” says Community Manager Jessica Woodend.

To ensure they can get as many BatBnBs out into the world as possible, the small team of bat enthusiasts has partnered with a U.S.-based distributor to make and ship the stylish boxes.

Just one look at the company’s elegant bat house designs, and you would be forgiven for mistaking them for an elegant piece of garden art.

Bat BnB house being installed.

An example of the high-quality and good-looks of the BatBnB bat houses.

If the BatBnB houses are not to your liking, there are many bat house styles available.

One of the best is the Vundahboah Amish Goods Outdoor Bat Box Shelter with Large Double Chamber. The bat house (pictured below) is handmade from solid cedar in the United States. The cedar is not only long lasting, it will also age gracefully to a lovely shade of gray over time.

Ferns & Feathers readers are being offered a 15 per cent discount on BatBnB houses when they use the code FERN at checkout. Simply go to the BatBnB website and use the code FERN when checking out.

Education is key to bat survival

“We’re here to rewrite the narrative around one of the world’s most commonly misunderstood animals,”the company states in its website.

And it doesn’t take long to realize just how serious they are.

“Our team is on a mission to empower the conservation movement by designing products that facilitate mutually beneficial relationships between people and wildlife. In doing so we welcome a broader demographic to participate in conservation in a meaningful way. With BatBnB, we’re empowering customers to ditch pesticides in favor of a natural alternative, provide a safe home for an animal in need, and educate their communities about the benefits these amazing animals bring.”

And, in case you thought these are meaningless statements just to sell bat houses, consider that BatBnB is endorsed by leading bat expert Merlin Tuttle.

The Gold Label Bat Houses (see below) are an excellent alternative to consider. It includes shingles for added warmth and protection long-life, and has two chambers.

Expertise and commitment from the beginning

The company started in 2016 after the founders recognized the problem bats faced.

We spent about 2 months doing our own research into the design. We then spent about 4 months working with world renowned bat biologist Merlin Tuttle, who has spent years studying what was working for bat houses and what wasn’t. Once we had the design ready, and Merlin’s seal of approval, it was about 6 months into our journey starting BatBnB,” explains Ms. Woodend.

We’re here to rewrite the narrative around one of the world’s most commonly misunderstood animals.
— BatBnB Founders

“Merlin Tuttle has been on the forefront of bat conservation for over 60 years,” she explains. “It was very important to us that we created a product, alongside Merlin, because he knows what works and what doesn’t. I don’t think there is anyone who knows as much about bats as Merlin does, and we wanted to have a product that would help these animals. He doesn’t give his seal approval out lightly, and we are proud of the product we have that checks all of the boxes for what Merlin found in his own research.”

Mr. Tuttle writes: “The BatBnB line of houses is the first to be developed for mass sale that meets all my personal criteria. I have been involved in the design and construction of these houses from the beginning and am happy to endorse them as unsurpassed in meeting bat needs, resisting deterioration, and still looking great.”

Education at the root of BatBnB website

Visitors to the BatBnB website can get an in-depth education on the value of bats.

The company has teamed up with the the Tuttle Bat Conservation group to provide the Bat Education Zone on the website where they explain the types of insect bats love to eat (1000 mosquito-size insects an hour) including Japanese Beetles, Cucumber Beetles, mosquitoes, stink bugs, leaf hoppers and army worm moths.

Check out this link to a fun but informative YouTube video about the importance of bats.

Visitors to the site will also learn what type of bats they might be able to encourage into the bat house, where the bats live in winter (some migrate south) and why bats need our help.

For parents looking to provide important outdoor education to their children or grandchilden, the kid-friendly website includes videos and fun facts about bats. There is even a quiz at the end to test your knowledge about bats.

The company has come a long way since their beginnings.

Company founders Christopher Rännefors and architectural designer Harrison Broadhurst started with the dual-chambered designs, and the company’s Mammoth bat house, explains Ms. Woodend.

“A year later we released the single-chamber option in order to create a different price point to meet the needs of our customers.

“We have made slight modifications to the mounting apparatuses to make things easier for the consumer to install, and to shift to more eco-friendly options. Our overall structure hasn’t changed much, and that is something we take a lot of pride in. Our research paid off and we were able to offer a high quality product to the masses,” explains Rännefors.

Just how much help has the company been to the survival of bats?

“We have sold enough BatBnBs to provide a safe home for almost 1,000,000 bats! We have BatBnBs in all 50 states, and 13 countries,” he explains.

Three bat houses tied together to create the ultimate bat condo.

The Triple Crown is a stunning bat house made up of three of the company’s most popular single units. The trio can hold more than 300 bats and eliminate hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes from your yard.

Why gardeners should attract bats?

“Bats provide some major benefits,” explains Ms. Woodend. Not only do they help control mosquito populations, but they also eat a wide range of other garden pests. Also, bats don’t typically eat bees or butterflies due to a scheduling difference, so our local pollinators are safe.”

As an added bonus, Bat guano is also a really rich fertilizer that can be used in small quantities on our gardens.

So not only are they a natural pest control, they’re a natural fertilizer with no chemicals needed. That’s a combination that is difficult to beat.

Ms. Woodend adds that there are also locations that benefit from pollination from bats. Although bats don’t get the same credit that our native bees and butterflies enjoy when it comes to pollination, bats can be important pollinators especially in tropical climates as well as deserts in the American Southwest where they pollinate agave plants as well as native cactus.

The United States Forest Service Rangeland Management Botany Program credit bats with pollinating more than 300 species of food-producing plants including cashews, bananas, peaches and figs.

Plants such as French Marigolds, Cleome, Yucca, Night-blooming phlox, Evening primrose, Fleabane, Moonflowers, Goldenrod, Nicotiana, Honeysuckle and Four o’clocks all benefit from possible pollination from bats.

If adding a moon garden of night-blooming flowers is in your plans, having bats will help ensure its success.

Bats also help spread seeds from hundreds of different plant species. Tropical fruit bats are good examples of how important seed dispersers bats can be, especially in warmer tropical climates.

Bat tips from a wildlife rehabilitator

Crystal Faye, Animal Care coordinator for Procyon Wildlife in Beeton Ontario, offers Ferns & Feathers readers some vital information about bats from years of helping injured animals or those needing a helping hand.

Here are just a few of her recommendations:

• Leaving dead trees (if safe to do so) to act as roosting spots

• Choosing native flowers that bloom late in the day or at night to attract insects bats will feed on

• Having a pond or birdbath to provide them a water source

• Don’t evict bats from structures during summer when they are raising pups. They have small litter sizes and low reproductive rates, so loss of an entire colony’s pups can really impact their population.

A few bat recommendations for anyone:

• If a bat pup falls from a roost you may be able to get it to grasp onto a broom and raise it back up to the bat house/nesting area. If given the chance it may climb back up to its colony.

• If a bat is found out of hibernation in the winter it has likely used up all its fat stores and needs help to survive. Releasing a bat outdoors in winter will cause it to die from freezing or of starvation. A bat found awake in Ontario or other cold climate during winter needs to be cared for by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

• Never handle a bat bare handed. Like most wild mammals they can contract and spread the rabies virus. Always wear thick gloves or use a thick towel if attempting to catch a bat.

To find a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario visit the Ontario Wildlife Rescue. Ontario Wildlife Rescue is a network of rehabilitators and wildlife centres across Ontario.

Why we need bats in our gardens

But what about woodland gardeners? Why should we care about bats?

In a Woodland garden, we strive to create a natural environment where everything is in check. Bats are an important part of that natural environment helping to create a balance. Bats fill a niche that few other animals can meet.

When my wife and I first moved into our home more that 20 years ago, the evening sky was filled with bats flitting about capturing their dinner in mid flight. I remember sitting out with a glass of wine just watching the little bats fly about in the openings between trees.

Mosquitoes were never really a concern at that time. West Nile didn’t exist in our area and the odd nip from a mosquito was no problem.

Life went by and working afternoons meant looking up into the evening sky became a rare endeavour available only on busy weekends. Since retirement, however, looking up into the evening sky has become an alarming exercise in futility.

No longer are bats filling the evening skies with their frenetic flights. There are still bats, but the numbers have fallen drastically. Seeing them flying about is now an exciting moment, rather than a common one.

Even in an area surrounded by acres of conservation land forests the bat population is in decline.

The result, besides the increase in the mosquito population and the inability to sit out in the evening without being attacked by a barrage of blood suckers, is the likely rise in pesticides to deal with the increasing numbers. This doesn’t include the enormous increase in electronic bug zappers that kill not only mosquitoes but every other flying insect at night including moths.

Bat houses are the perfect way to reduce mosquitoes in your yard

Company founders Christopher Rännefors and Harrison Broadhurst display two of their popular bat houses.

Artificial roosts help bats recover from White-Nose Syndrome

Adding to the problem is the enormous loss of bats due to White-Nose Syndrome.

According to Mr. Tuttle, “The bat-killing fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that causes white-nose syndrom (WNS), has triggered the most serious wildlife disease epidemic in American history.”

The immediate goals of wildlife experts has been to try to halt the spread and find a cure for the disease.

Mr. Tuttle goes on to explain that White-Nose Syndrome “has proven unstoppable. Bats have spread it rapidly across an entire continent since 2008, killing millions of cave-hibernating species. This is extremely discouraging.

However, the most dire predictions have not come to pass, and encouraging discoveries have been made.

Bat facts from the U.S. Department of the Interior

1) There are more than 1,400 species of bats worldwide.

2) Not all bats hibernate

3) Bats have few natural predators – disease is one of the biggest threats particularly white-nose syndrome.

4) No bats mean no bananas, avocados and mangoes.

5) Night insects have the most to fear from bats.

6) Bats are the only flying mammal

7) Bats may be small, but they’re fast reaching speeds over 100 miles per hour.

8) Conservation efforts are helping bat species recover. At least 12 types of U.S. bats are endangered. In 1988, estimates of lesser long-nosed bat numbers put them at fewer than 1,000 bats at 14 roosts. There are now an estimated 200,000 bats at 75 roosts.

9) The longest living bat is 41 years old. In 2006, a tiny bat from Siberia set the world record at 41 years.

10) Not unlike cats, bats spend a lot of time cleaning and grooming their sleek fur. It also helps to control parasites.

For more interesting facts on our native bats, check out government website 13 awesome facts about Bats.

How gardeners can help bats

Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation suggests the way to help bats deal with White-Nose Syndrome is to focus “on helping bats recover, (by) strictly protecting and restoring their most important hibernation sites, protecting remaining summer colonies, and providing artificial roosts.”

There is mounting evidence of a gradual recovery, when these steps have been taken.

Individual gardeners can do their part by providing natural roosting places in their gardens and by erecting specialized bat houses that help to provide habitat for these critical garden helpers.

Properly constructed and well built bat houses will go a long way in helping our local bats survive and prosper until wildlife scientists are able to wrestle WNS into submission.

The problem, however, is not going away. Efforts to stop the spread of WNS has not slowed its progression. Bats are spreading the disease themselves and cures and vaccinations are are proving impractical, according to the Tuttle Bat organization.

Individual bats can be cured of the fungus that causes WNS, but “cures do not confer immunity, so cannot prevent reinfection.”

In addition, “Widespread vaccination is cost prohibitive and could slow natural selection needed to evolve genetic resistance in future populations.”

In the meantime, all we can do is provide them with the best and healthiest environment possible.

That does not include the use of pesticides.

“Merlin Tuttle always says it best,” explains Woodend, “that the biggest threat to bats is our failure to understand them. We have made it our mission, along with providing quality bat houses, to educate the public about these misunderstood animals. Highlighting the benefits we receive from these animals, and how we can help. Not everyone has to love bats, but we do need to respect them and their role in the ecosystems we all depend on.”

Do bats carry rabies?

Probably the biggest fear of bats is the possibility of contracting rabies.

It’s important to remember that bats are already living all around us, and the chances of getting rabies from a bat is exceedingly rare.

“Like all mammals, bats can contract rabies (though often at a lower rate than other mammals like raccoons or skunks), but transmission to humans is extremely rare, with just 1-2 cases per year in the U.S. and Canada combined,” explains Ms. Woodend.

“It’s worth noting that in the majority of those cases, it was a result of a human making the mistake of touching the bat. Never do that. Bats are not pets and should never be handled. For anyone who simply doesn’t handle bats, the odds of contracting any disease are exceedingly remote,” she explains.

“Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of bats living in bat houses across North America, and according to bat expert, Merlin Tuttle, there’s not a single recorded case of a bat house owner being harmed by a bat.

“In Austin, Texas 1.5 million bats live under the Congress Ave Bridge in the center of the city, have attracted millions of visitors to view their spectacular emergence close-up, and none has ever been attacked or contracted a disease.

BatBnB recognizes that, although contracting rabies from a bat is extremely rare, their responsibility to educate customers is vital and to make them aware that bats are “absolutely not pets.”

“If a bat is ever seen on the ground or in the home then an animal control professional should be called, and the bat should never be handled directly,” they are quick to point out.

“We don’t pretend there isn’t a risk of rabies with bats, but we also don’t want to allow over-blown scare stories in the media to prevent us from looking at the real numbers in the data that show how small a risk this is to the general population. If we didn’t, then bats would continue to be vilified, threatened, and ultimately tumble down the path of becoming endangered species.”

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Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Forest Bathing: How to use nature to find peace, better health

Forest bathing has found its place in North America during the Covid pandemic, but it got its start in Japan in the 1980s. Come explore Forest bathing in your own backyard.

Let me bring you songs from the wood
To make you feel much better than you could know
Dust you down from tip to toe
Show you how the garden grows

Ian Anderson

Gardens can be the perfect starting point

Finding peace in the forest or woodland is nothing new. For centuries, people have sought the quiet solitude of these places to escape the stress of urban life.

Tapping into and recognizing the true healing power of the forest, woodlands and natural areas, however, is a fairly recent endeavour.

“It was the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries that established the practice of “shinrin-yoku” (literally translated to “forest bathing”) in the 1980s, as a response to a rising health crisis in their country,” explains Fru Molnar, a Certified Forest Therapy Guide (

Fru Molnar a certified Forest Bathing guide

Fru Molnar, a certified Forest Bathing guide from New York state.


She explains that: “Spending time in nature has been an accessible way to co-regulate the human nervous system for as long as we’ve been on this planet. And, with the evolution of humans, our consciousnesses, and our technologies, we have also developed multifaceted practices to connect with the natural world in order to heal ourselves.”

In the United States, Canada and Europe, the Covid pandemic helped turn woodlands and natural areas – including our gardens – into places of refuge where we could escape the stress and worries associated with big cities, crowded streets and the constant fear of contracting the disease.

Forest bathing for many, whether we realized it or not, became a lifesaver.

“In recent years, I would posit that forest bathing has been gaining traction throughout the pandemic in particular not only because it’s a tangible stress reliever, but also because it was one of the only activities that many folks could still enjoy during peak lockdown times, at least in the United States,” explains Fru, from her home in Peekskill, New York, a town on the Hudson River about an hour north of Manhattan

When you’re truly engaged with your senses in the present moment in nature, that’s forest bathing to me.
— Fru Molnar

“Even in the height of the pandemic, people were able to discover that being outdoors in fresh air with plenty of distance between each other can be an avenue for self-care, play, socializing or community care, and recreation. It’s no coincidence, either, that forest bathing has been proven to boost the immune system – so the health and wellness benefits are obvious draws.”

Fru, a certified forest bathing guide, with her husband Evan exploring the mountains.

Forest bathing actually played a key role in helping Fru and her husband, Evan, find a more satisfying life away from the stress of the big city life.

Evan, a creative designer and digital artist created beautiful images to promote Fru’s Forest Bathing business. For my complete story on Evan’s outstanding work go here.

The couple escaped the big city life in Manhattan by taking a leap to a more rural area of New York state to create Fru’s dream of a more natural lifestyle as a Forest Bathing guide.

“Yes, absolutely. New York City will always have a huge piece of my heart, but I needed balance,” she explains.

“I learned that the concrete jungle isn’t always the most healthful environment for a sensitive person who longs to feel synced to the movements and energies of the natural world; I realized I needed to be living somewhere where I could actually touch the earth with my bare feet on a daily basis, where I could look out my windows and see more trees than buildings, where I could plant a garden and grow flowers for my friends, where I could hike up a mountain after work instead of hiking up endless subway steps.

This experience was amazing. It took me days to speed back up again, and I don’t think I will ever feel like I have to move so fast again!
— Forest bathing client

For a few years, the couple combined the fast pace of Manhattan during the week with a slower pace of nature on weekends they hiked in the Hudson Valley.

Eventually, everything fell in place to “re-root here in Peekskill” she explains.

Peekskill is the basecamp for her forest therapy guide company.

To get to this stage she needed to become a certified forest therapy guide which she did via the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs.

The program consists of a six-month online intensive training, followed by a four-day in-person immersion training, Fru explains. She also holds a certification in Wilderness First Aid Basics – an important addition in case of an emergency in the field.


Opening the door to nature

“Additionally, I’ve spent over a decade walking the trails and intimately getting to know the natural landscapes of the Lower Hudson Valley area as an avid hiking, camping, and outdoor adventure enthusiast,” Fru explains.

She is quick to point out that she – and others in her profession – are not therapists, but guides.

“In this practice, we allow the therapeutic work to be done by the natural setting itself. We hold the container for this unique relationship to form between each participant and the forest. A favorite motto among forest therapy guides is: “The forest is the therapist. The guide opens the doors.”

How to discover nature through the senses

“What forest bathing means to me is to be present in nature (any nature, it doesn’t actually have to be a literal forest). It’s really as simple as that. Coming into the present itself can be done through a variety of methods, and I find the most accessible is through the senses,” explains Fru.

“Nature offers such a gorgeously rich tapestry of sensory delights that make it almost impossible not to be present when touching the delicate petal of a flower, or listening to the birds singing, or watching water in a stream.

“When you’re truly engaged with your senses in the present moment in nature, that’s forest bathing to me.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re not having thoughts, of course, but the idea behind the practice is that it’s a restorative one – one where we get to step out of our minds a little bit, and step into our bodies, relax into nature, and enjoy the moment without expectations, without trying to “achieve” anything, just being open to receiving the gifts of Mother Earth. Try it – you might be surprised at how profound things can get when you start looking more closely at the mushrooms, or start actually listening to the trees."

“I had such a good time yesterday that I went out into the woods again later that day, just to do some writing on paper and be with the trees.”
— Forest bather client

What are the benefits to forest bathing?

There are so many physical, mental, and emotional benefits to the practice of forest bathing, some of which can be felt immediately, while others have more subtle effects.”

Three decades of scientific studies in Japan show the vast array of benefits that can be derived from spending mindful, structured time in nature, explains Fru.

These benefits range from the purely physical – boosting immunity, lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, and lowered blood pressure, to the emotional and mental – enhanced mental clarity and cognition, increased access to certain types of creativity, improved mood, increased sense of vitality, and relief for chronic depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions.

“It’s truly incredible the breadth of ways in which simply being in the atmosphere of the forest can have a profound effect on us humans, both physiologically and psychologically,” says Fru, adding that “anyone who has spent a few hours in the woods knows how much better you feel afterward.”

Readers who are interested in diving deeper into the science behind any of these benefits, can find links to many of the studies on Fru’s website here.

I had a pretty profound experience where I met my higher self and she told me that I’m worthy of love- it was a beautiful goddess version of me.
— Forest bathing client

What to expect during a forest bathing session

If you have never experienced an organized forest bathing session, you might be surprised.

It is not necessarily travelling deep into a forest and meditating for hours until the perfect Zen state is achieved. Of course, that can be part of an experience but most experiences are simpler and more accessible. For some, it could involve a slow movement through a natural area, for others, it may just involve sitting in a quiet place.

“This practice can be done while in motion, too – nature itself is always in motion, after all. So it’s not necessary to be seated or meditating while enjoying nature, but I do encourage slowness during movement. We want to let our bodies really feel relaxed and held, and for some this might mean moving around, and for others it may mean laying on the earth and watching the clouds float by. It’s all medicine.”

What’s a typical forest bathing session?

Fru explains: “Sessions range from 2-3 hours depending on the size of the group. We don’t walk the entire time, and there are usually several opportunities to take seated breaks along the way. Typically we cover no more than 1 mile in total distance. 

“We gather at our meeting spot and I give a brief introduction. Then, I guide us in some gentle mindfulness practices to awaken our senses and ground us in the present moment.

“From there, we slowly wander and get to know our forest or natural setting. Along the way, I offer a few invitations designed to further connect us with our surroundings as we explore. I always build in chances for you to connect with the forest on your own terms, in your own authentic way. All elements of the session are completely optional and offered as invitations only.

“There are also opportunities to gather in a group and share with others. I really prefer guiding groups for this reason – when we share with others, and even more importantly, when we listen to and witness others’ experiences, our own experiences become all the more enriched for it. Someone sharing a story about a moment they had with a turtle might awaken something deep within another participant, or might prompt someone else to seek out their own kindred creature.”

You don’t have to be out in the deep forest to practise Forest bathing. Pick a chair in your own garden and work to become one with nature. Fru will even work with far-away gardeners over zoom through their smartphones.

Can we practise forest bathing in our own natural garden?

The benefits of forest bathing can be achieved as much in your backyard as they can in the deepest forest. Afterall, it is as much a presence of mind as it is a physical place.

Our woodland gardens just might be the ideal place for us to experience the joys and peace forest bathing offers.

“Gardening is a perfect gateway to forest bathing! Caring for plants in a reciprocal relationship is a core value of forest therapy guides and gardeners alike,” explains Fru.

I was surprised how much better I felt after and how deeply positively it affected me.
— Forest bathing client

 She offers a simple technique: “I’d like to share a very simple but truly profound forest bathing invitation that gardeners can do every single day in their own backyards. It’s called “sit spot,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like — find a place in your garden where you can sit (or lie down) very comfortably for at least 15-20 minutes. 

“Then, do just that — sit. And be. Allow yourself to do nothing. See what happens as you observe the world around you unfold. Notice with all of your senses. Cultivate patience. 

Fru recommends people who have a peaceful garden to do this exercise every single day in the same spot, if possible. “It’s truly magical to notice how the landscape changes, and how it stays the same — and how we change and stay the same right alongside it.”

The good news is that Fru is available to hep guide gardeners either in person if you live nearby, virtually using a smart phone or through a zoom call.

Gardeners who would like to contact Fru can do so easily through email at her website at ([email protected]), or by filling out the booking form on her website.

Walk was extremely calming and relaxing. I felt very supported to allow the invitations to flow easily, without judgment or control. Heart rate decreased, breathing felt more nourishing, filled with gratitude post-walk. Felt more connected with myself, my environment, and the walk group.
— Forest bathing client

Exploring a virtual forest bathing experience

Even if you don’t live anywhere near the Lower Hudson Valley (NY), Fru is available to guide virtually.

“On virtually-guided walks, you get to choose the location, and I’ll guide from my own location. So we won’t be physically present with each other, but we will be doing the practice simultaneously on our phones,” Fru explains. “These 1.5-hour journeys are a low-key, accessible way to get many of the benefits of an in-person forest therapy experience from your own backyard or favorite outdoor spot. All you need is a device with Wifi or cell connection, headphones, and someplace green that calls out to you. Wherever you participate from, the guided session includes sensory invitations and optional group sharing opportunities, and we’ll finish with a virtual tea circle!”

Exploring the virtual experience is just another way natural, woodland gardeners can explore the benefits of their hard work and become more aware and connected to their garden.

Gardeners who would like to contact Fru can do so easily through email at her website at ([email protected]), or by filling out the booking form on her website. You can visit her website at

Lastly, if readers want to find other ANFT-certified forest bathing guides near them, check out this comprehensive list of more than 500 certified forest bathers in the following directory and search by city or state or country, including forest bathers in Canada, the U.K. etc.

•A quick search in my area turned up Forestbathingwithbeth which is operated in Barrie just outside Toronto, Ont., Canada.

• For those in the west, or those readers looking for the ultimate Forest bathing experience in the Cdn. Rocky Mountains, contact Ronna at Forest Fix who operates in the Canmore/Banff area.

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Landscape ideas Vic MacBournie Landscape ideas Vic MacBournie

Creating your own “Ark” landscape design has never been easier

Here is your opportunity to have Chelsey Gold Medal winning landscape designer Mary Reynolds create a garden of your dreams based around her concept of creating Arks. A natural landscape or woodland garden based on native plants for wildlife.

Mary Reynolds’ gift makes it all possible

Chelsea award-winning Irish landscape designer, Mary Reynolds, has given the world too many gifts to count, but her latest gift might just be her most inspiring.

Especially if you are the one either giving it, or, even better, on the beneficiary end.

Mary, both an accomplished author and landscaper designer, has been working hard over the past several years to help homeowners and especially gardeners develop a new appreciation for a more “wild landscape” – one that respects native plants and the wildlife that either calls it home or would love to make it their home.

Image of Irish landscape designer Mary Reynolds

Landscape designer Mary Reynolds is now offering readers in North America and elsewhere the opportunity to have her help create a landscape design for their properties.

She has developed an entire movement and website (We Are The Ark) around creating “Arks” in the suburban and rural landscapes. These Arks act as stepping stones across the landscape, where pollinators, birds and even mammals can find refuge and habitat they can call home.

Every thread of the web we remove through human expansion, destruction and pollution, could be the last thread holding it all together and we just dont know when it is all going to fall apart. If you want to save the planet, start with your own patch of it.
— Mary Reynolds

Why is it so important for homeowners to develop their Ark?

Mary explains, over email, to Ferns & Feathers that it is increasingly important for homeowners to consider creating an Ark.

“Because the web of life is collapsing. We have lost 70 per cent of all our earth’s wild creatures since 1970 when the ‘green’ revolution kicked in and the population exploded. With the collapse in insect populations and the 75 per cent loss of our topsoil, we are looking at a catastrophic collapse of the earth’s ability to provide us with clean air, water, food and shelter,” Mary explains.

“Every thread of the web we remove through human expansion, destruction and pollution, could be the last thread holding it all together and we just don’t know when it is all going to fall apart.”

Mary urges homeowners to recognize their role in saving the planet, even if it is just a small patch in an urban environment.

“If you want to save the planet, start with your own patch of it. Set your land free and support it to become a native plant ecosystem, removing the non natives and importing as many locally sourced native plant layers as possible. These are the plant communities that have evolved alongside their local insects and mammals who cannot survive without them. We have to make a patchwork quilt of hope for nature, for the seeds of restoration to spring forth when the time comes.”

Her website already tracks the number of people who have created their own Arks and marked them on her arkivist world map.

To date, there are more than 1,000 documented Arks, including about 320 in the United States and Canada. Mary hopes her individual and more personalized assistance will help boost that number.

Now, Mary wants to offer her services to help even more homeowners turn their properties into “Arks.”

Landscape designer Mary Reynolds is offering to help howmowners in North America and elsewhere create their own Arks.

And, for homeowners in the United States and Canada, she will provide the service all on line.

She tells Ferns & Feathers that she is ready for the onslaught of requests undoubtedly coming her way.

“I have been doing online consultations for a couple of years now across the world, the complexities are not too hard, most places have similar problems, and simple, if often different solutions,” Mary explains.

Hummingbird in the garden.

Giving wildlife a place to prosper in your garden is an important part of creating your own Ark.

Why do we need an Ark?

Mary points out on the website that the earth is “losing 150 to 200 species to extinction every single day. Each species lost is lost FOREVER.

Biodiversity is short for “Biological diversity”.

Biodiversity is “the variety of all living things, and the systems which connect them.” This includes all the planet’s different plants, animals and micro- organisms, plus the genetic information they contain and the ecosystems of which they are a part.”

An incredible opportunity to build your Ark

It’s an incredible opportunity to have a Chelsea Gold-Medal winning landscape designer dig into your landscape and help transform it into a woodland/wildlife refuge.

Mary, of course, is not limited to “woodland” designs, but given that this website is dedicated to woodland/wildlife design and Mary has gone on record saying that most land wants to revert back to a woodland style, the odds are good that the design will lean in that direction.

In the announcement, Mary said she “wants you to give any land under your care back to nature, to re-wild, to be Arked.”

Mary Reynolds’ first book Garden Awakening, where she introduced the concept of creating Arks to the world of gardening.

“The hour consultation is a zoom call where I have been supplied with photos and short videos of their land. Then we talk through each area discussing how to increase the sanctuary there for the local wildlife in all its forms,” explains Mary.

“Also we work out how to weave the guardians’ own needs in with these ideas. The sketch designs are more detailed and are to scale, mapping out a concept design for you to work with on your own land, though I need a proper land survey for that option,  with all of the existing trees, plants, paths etc,” Mary says, adding that the on-line services will be an ongoing service for homeowners and businesses.

Anywhere in the world, Mary can work online with you, from an hour long consultation to a full ARK design.
In particular, Mary “can help you design a space that allows for the maximum amount of edges and ecotones, the most diverse range of habitats you can fit into your land. A magical place for your family to enjoy and protect, which will be hopping with life and beauty. A sanctuary for all of the native creatures that need it, places to rest and recover and finally thrive.”

“She will guide you to understand how to step in and provide the ecosystem services required to maintain that diversity going forward, to replace the missing parts of the web of life that we have broken. To become the wolf, the deer, the beaver.
To be a Guardian, not a gardener.
To be an Arkevist.”

There are several approaches homeowners can take to have Mary design their gardens.

Mary is asking readers to email her with the property’s size, and some photos to receive a quote for the work.  

All of the details are available at her website (link.) Below are excerpts from her website to give readers a better understanding how the process may work.

• An online advice hour over Skype or Zoom: Send a number of comprehensive photos of your land, a google maps pin so we can look at it from above and even some very short videos (less than 1 minute if possible). Once I have all the information, I can talk through ideas with you over zoom. Please note that this is not a gardening advice service. It is for Ark development and design. €184.50 (€150 plus VAT @ 23%) (approximately $230 US, or $310 Cdn. to be paid before the appointment.)

An on-site consultancy including a design: This involves me coming to visit you, at your home, where we sit down and I sketch a design out over a pre-prepared landscape survey of the site (which you will have provided from a surveyor), creating spaces within the land for spending time, growing food, building a magical connection between your land and yourself and supporting wildlife to share the land with you.  I draw up a scaled master plan before I leave. However, there will be no detailed construction details or detailed drawings, but you will be able to work with a contractor using the master plan or use it yourself to develop your Ark.

If I am working out of the country, I would be asking you to consider an online design consultation as I do not want to travel unless absolutely necessary.

The process usually takes 3 – 4  hours on site (I will need a dry warm space with a large table to work on). In order to give you a definite price I need you to email me some photographs of the land so I can see how big it is, as size is everything in terms of the amount of design involved. But I usually manage most gardens in the one day, if the areas I am designing are not too complicated and under an acre in size.

Online Design Consultation: 
This is a good way to get the Mary design experience if you are a distance away.

“I will work on a survey pre-prepared and sent to me before the appointment date. I can get to talk to you by zoom in the morning to hear the design brief and feel into the situation. Then I will work on the design to get a good solution for both the client and the Ark’s requirements and call you back as required during the day, finally presenting it by zoom and scanning the drawings and emailing them to you day following completion.”

“You will end up with a good overall master plan to work towards yourself, or to use in conjunction with a contractor to manifest the design on the ground, or develop the Ark yourself.”

“However, there will be no detailed construction details or planting details. As I am not spending time travelling to the site, I get to spend more time at the design during the day and it is a good solution for people a distance away.”

In order to give you a definite price I would need you to send me photographs of the land so I can see how big it is, as size is everything in terms of the amount of design involved!
But I usually manage most gardens in the one day, if the areas I am designing are not too complicated and under an acre in size.

However, there is also the cost of the survey, which needs to be emailed to me before I begin so that I can do some preparation drawings. The survey is a separate contract which doesn’t involve my input and best organized locally to your site.

The amount of information Mary will need will depend on how detailed a plan you are looking for her to design.

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The Woodland comes to life in Evan Rosen’s exquisite artwork

It took the death of his father and a complete immersion into nature, the forest and woodlands to take Evan Rosens art from the darkness into the sunlight.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

–Paul Simon

Darkness turns to light as the seeds of nature take root

The darkness in Evan Rosen’s art was clearly evident. It emerged from the skulls and knives, the snakes and the dark figures that are hard not to miss in his Instagram feed.

Today, that darkness has given way to light in the form of exquisite, woodland floral art.

A series of flower bouquets combining woodland flowers, dogwood bracts, berries and even emerging skunk cabbage are evidence that his artistic path has taken a dramatic change.

But it took the death of his father and the work of his wife to bring about that change.

A spring woodland bouquet including trillium, dogwood, lilac, dog-tooth violet and, of course, our native bumble bee.

A spring woodland bouquet including trillium, dogwood, lilac, dog-tooth violet and, of course, our native bumble bee.


His wife’s life-changing decision to leave a hectic corporate job in New York and take on a new career in the quiet of nature’s woodland, that had a pronounced influence on Evan’s work.

A project to create a series of images of forest bouquets to promote his wife’s Forest Bathing venture was the catalyst behind his new artistic path.

This project started as a way to market Forest Baths. I’d made the logo and we were both happy with it, but we needed something visually interesting for the newsletter and flyers. I can’t recall exactly how we came up with the first one, but I’m sure we were walking in the woods when it happened.
— Evan Rosen

Evan Rosen’s woodland floral artwork captures the forest and its inhabitants in perfect detail.


Not only was the series of images for his wife’s work the original impetus for creating the floral work, but Evan is quick to add that it is also “because going forest bathing and hiking with his wife, Fru, was where we found much of the inspiration.”

If you want to learn more about Fru’s forest bathing business, you might enjoy my comprehensive story on Fru’s business, here.

Evan also attributes his change in focus to the loss of his dad to cancer in November of 2020. His death and the enormous influence of his mother, an award-winning gardener in her own right.

“My Mom is a flower maniac. She’s very talented at creating flower arrangements and our house was always full of them. She has grown an incredible variety of flowers (especially roses), and has a small mountain of prize ribbons from the local garden show. Which, shell have you know, she won without the use of fertilizers or pesticides, just compost!

My father’s death led to “a big tonal shift in my work,” he adds.

Evan created a collage portrait of his father which was eventually used as a poster for his memorial.

“He was an avid gardener of fruit trees, and an attorney who specialized in cannabis law. I wanted to create an image of him exalted and enthroned by the plants that he loved and cultivated. It’s the way I wanted to remember him, surrounded by life. I think it’s a critical bridge between my older work and my newer stuff.

Memorial image of Richard Allen Rosen that acted as an inspiration for Evan's new artistic path.

A tribute Evan created for his father’s memorial.


“I think before I experienced loss, I was much more drawn toward dark imagery, skulls, etc. After spending a year grieving and experiencing actual darkness, flowers started to be really appealing! We also bought a house and I started growing flowers myself in addition to vegetable gardening.”

Evan’s path is quite extraordinary.

The self-taught artist grew up in California and attended University of California, Santa Cruz where he majored in Community Studies where he studied the theory and practice of activism. In high school and college he became interested in working on and designing web sites.

He eventually made his way to New York (Brooklyn in 2006) for a college internship, but he “liked it so much that I never went back to finish my degree. I continued doing freelance design and eventually transitioned to working desk jobs as a web, then UX (user experience) designer,” he explains.

In 2010 he met his wife through a dating website, and the rest was history.

But, let’s go back to the beginning again.

Evan traces the path back to 2014 in a small apartment in Brooklyn N.Y.

“I started making collage in earnest around 2014, while living in a small apartment in Brooklyn. I was exploring the medium in earnest, falling in love with the process, and didn’t have a particular statement I was trying to make. So a lot of the early things I made were derivative of, or direct homage, to the stuff I loved – weird scifi and dark fantasy, anime and comics and fiction.

Evan’s story certainly has a dark side, but it’s one he doesn’t mind sharing.

He remembers his artwork as a “reflection of my mental environment, which has not always been a friendly place. I was, for the first time, trying to treat my depression, anxiety and ADHD, with therapy, medication and meditation. This was not some program, I was just trying everything that seemed promising.

“It turns out making collage art was a key part of that healing process for me. By sifting through images and recombining them, I was able to let my subconscious process things that I wasn’t able to reckon with directly. So unsurprisingly, there are a lot of monsters,” he explains.

His outlook and creative vision continued to evolve and “in 2019 we left Brooklyn for Peekskill, NY, driven in large part by my wife’s passionate love of nature and my industry (web design) becoming increasingly friendly to remote-work. I started gardening and around the same time – the second half of 2019 – you start to see nature imagery creeping into my work.

That becomes clear in a series of biome environmental images he created that he calls the Islands series.

“I think it was also an expression of eco-anxiety – these tiny biomes floating in different voids symbolized a hopeful outcome for vanishing wild places,” Evan explains.

Biodome image

An example of one of Evan’s floating biodome pieces.


It was about that time that his wife needed artwork for her Forest Bathing business and Evan seemed like the logical choice to create it.

And the woodland floral bouquets were born.

But, it wasn’t quite that simple.

First, his outdoorsy wife, Fru, had to get this indoor recluse out in nature so he could experience what she was planning to dedicate her life doing.

“Well, I spend a LOT more time in the woods now. That’s always been a key part of our relationship, spending time in nature together. And for most of the time we’ve been together, she was always the one who would suggest we do outdoorsy things. And I’d half jokingly say ‘thanks for making sure I go outside sometimes.’ Because collage art is a pretty inherently indoor activity.”

Evan explains how getting outdoors changed his life.


Evan and his wife, Fru, enjoying the forest in New York State near their home.


“Learning the science has also been really eye opening. There are so many profound, and objectively measurable, health benefits to spending time in the woods. One of the most useful for me is the way it helps me regulate my nervous system. After I’ve been out in the woods for maybe 45 minutes or an hour, the sense of calm I feel in my body is tremendous, and lasts well past when we return to civilization.”

But, there was still the matter of creating these exquisite woodland bouquets. Again, that’s where his wife’s extensive knowledge of the woodland came to the rescue.

“I feel the bouquets are very much a collaboration, and never would have happened without her business as a client. They always start with a list of plants that we’re excited about seeing in the month ahead. Typically Fru would write most of that. So, she should get credit for a lot of the knowledge you’re seeing displayed!”

“From there, I’d learn the latin names and go find them on, an incredible archive of botanical imagery. Some species have hundreds of illustrations, while others might only have a few. But that site provides 90 per cent of my source material.

“Often I’ll combine elements from several different illustrations. The arranging itself is mostly my solo activity. But then I’ll always work with her to fine tune it, because she also has a great eye, especially for things like color balancing and getting the right mix of simple and complex.”

Evan also admits that it is his wife who does most of the planning.

“I do pretty well with my ADHD, but these take weeks to finish and if it were left up to me they’d all be two months late. She would make sure we start the process the month before which usually was enough time for me to finish a piece during the intended month.”

And so it was that the bouquets were born – one for each month of the year to promote Fru’s Forest Bathing business and, in turn, bring new life and focus to Evan’s art.

“I will definitely keep doing more floral arrangements,” he says. “I’d love to do commissions in this style, creating a custom piece based on the plants that are meaningful to someone.”

Where can you purchase Evan’s art?

Evan and his wife operate an Etsy shop where you can purchase his work as fine art prints, greeting cards and even a calendar displaying all the woodland images. Use this link to visit the Etsy site (or the one above.)

Evan has generously offered a 15 per cent discount to Ferns & Feathers readers by using the code “FERNSANDFLOWERS” at checkout. Evan points out that any order over $35 (which amounts to a calendar and two cards!) and there’s free shipping.

In addition, consider that 50 per cent of the Etsy shop profits are donated to an indigenous people’s arts and culture organization in New York.

“We donate 50 per cent of our profits to The Lenape Center, an arts and culture organization run by and for Lenape, the indigenous people of the Lower Hudson Valley,” explains Evan.

“As a white person, land acknowledgements are a good start, but pretty meaningless if they aren’t backed up with action, Evan explains. “So, we wanted to make sure that this project gave back to the land, by giving back to the people who have stewarded it.”

In their own words: “Since 2009, Lenape Center, based in Manhattan and led by Lenape elders, has created programs, exhibitions, workshops, performances, symposia, land acknowledgment, and ceremonies to continue our Lenape presence. We push back against our erasure and seed the ground with Lenape consciousness for the next generations.”

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Understory Gardens: Focus on sustainable west-coast landscapes

Alexa LeBouef Brooks is a west coast garden designer looking to convince people that we need a more sustainable approach to garden design in the face of climate change.

Garden designer’s favourite plants for the natural garden

Alexa LeBouef Brooks is changing the world around her, and she’s not alone.

Like so many other people her age working to protect the earth, Alexa recognizes that the environment is at a critical juncture – either something is done soon or we risk losing much of what we have in the not-too-distant future.

The 33-year-old landscape designer is fully aware of the environmental challenges that lay ahead for future generations and the precarious path humans could be facing in the future.

Alexa is part of a new breed of progressive landscape designers taking it upon themselves to reject traditional garden designs and embrace a new, more sustainable garden style – at least in the town she calls home. Her Pacific West-Coast designs specialize in developing a more sustainable, woodland or naturalized gardening approach – hence the name Understory Gardens.

(For more on West Coast garden designs and native plants, be sure to check out my post on Vancouver-Island-based Satinflower Nurseries, Native plants find a home on Vancouver Island.)

Also, if you are interested in native plants, be sure to check out my post on Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle area landscape designer Alex Leboeuf Brooks is one of many new progressive designers who is challenging old landscape approaches to create more sustainable landscapes for the future.

Seattle area landscape designer Alex LeBoeuf Brooks is one of many new progressive designers who is challenging old landscape approaches to create more sustainable landscapes for the future.

That love of woodland and natural garden designs has its roots in her childhood.

“Growing up in the Pacific Northwest my parents often brought me to the mountains or the river and seasides to go camping and exploring. From a young age I found myself in awe of our natural beauty,” Alexa explains.

“I think the development of my style of gardening grew from my desire to always be connected to the natural beauty I spent so much time in as a child. Although I embrace multiple garden aesthetics, the native and natural style of gardening keeps me rooted in the land I call home.”

Inspired by the work of Irish landscaper, author Mary Reynolds

Although her love for natural gardens has its roots in her childhood, Alexa owes much of her garden design approach to the work of famed Irish landscape designer and author Mary Reynolds who, rejected the traditional landscape design methods to focus mainly on restoring the land and habitats. She is founder of the environmental movement, that encourages gardeners around the world to create more natural, sustainable gardens through the use of native plants.

If you are interested in getting more on the work of Mary Reynolds and her book Garden Awakening, you might be interested in my article Garden Awakening will change the way you garden.

Another landscape designer that has shaped Alexa’s work are the more classic designs of Miranda Brooks.


Although her passion is landscape design, Alexa’s real challenge is about combining beautiful, but ecologically sustainable landscapes for her clients.

Her long list of achievements has helped lead her to starting landscape design in 2018.

  • Vice chair and landscape designer for the Edmonds Architectural Design Board

  • Completed Edmonds Community College courses in specialty pruning and design

  • Member of the Plant Amnesty Gardener Referral List

  • 9 years experience with organic Agriculture and animal husbandry

  • 8 years experience with ornamental Horticulture

Plant Amnesty: Focus on maintaining ecology and environment

Through the excellent work of the Seattle-based, non-profit organization called Plant Amnesty, many of Alexa’s clientele are already aware of the importance of protecting the ecology of the area.

The organization’s focus is to educate the greater Puget Sound area on proper pruning, responsible gardening and land preservation.

“I find that most clients who seek gardeners and designers through Plant Amnesty have a shared interest in maintaining the integrity of our delicate ecology and environment. Even outside of my Plant Amnesty clients, when a potential client sees my business name and website, they are anticipating a particular style of gardening from my work. Most are open to the suggestions I make when designing their gardens and plugging in additional plants to an existing design as well as garden maintenance methods.

“The more I learn about the benefits of using strictly native plants, the more I turn to them,” Alexa LeBouef Brooks.

Designer is turning gardens into works of art

Alexa’s background in fine art certainly helped prepare her for the challenge

“In 2012 I received my bachelor’s degree of Fine Arts and Art History and pursued the art world in my twenties. I have always had my hands in the soil for as long as my memory serves me. I think that is why I enjoy art and art making so much, is because there is a tactile element that requires the use of hands and creativity, while getting a little messy along the way,” she explains.

“Somewhere along the journey I started getting interested in the design element of landscaping. I could use my creative skills on paper to transform beautiful outdoor living spaces. Landscape design has become the perfect marriage of all my interests in the art and landscaping world.”

Along the journey, she is playing a vital role in saving the natural environment and landscapes in her home town of Edmonds, Washington just outside Seattle, where she is the vice-chair for the Edmonds Architectural Design Board.

“I believe all homeowners should be stewards of their land, to preserve and maintain the diverse ecology of surrounding plants and species,” she explains.

Alexa is doing her part to help guide her clients along this path. Education plays an important role in her relationship both with her clients and the environment she creates for them.

“My design process includes an educational element in which I teach my clients about individual plant and seasonal needs. I like involving my clients in the design process because it inspires them to learn more about maintaining our natural environment, and their personal garden is the perfect tool to achieve this.”

I believe the natural landscape of the Pacific Northwest stirs inspiration in people of all ages to maintain its beauty.

She is quick to point out that, “responsible stewardship can also be achieved by creating designs for clients that integrate native and drought tolerant plants as well as plants that attract our resident pollinators.”

Alexa uses her extensive knowledge of the environment and use of native plants to guide her clients.

“I believe the natural landscape of the Pacific Northwest stirs inspiration in people of all ages to maintain its beauty,” she explains.

“It could be as simple as leaving most of the fallen leaves and using it as an attractive mulch for garden beds. Destructive methods include stripping the top layer of mulch and soil using powerful gas blowers and excessive raking. Not only does this negatively impact butterfly larvae populations as well as leave little nesting materials and berries for birds, but you are left with bare soil that does not retain moisture and nutrients for our increasing summer temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.”

Climate change: Awakening a new style of gardening

Alexa is the first to admit that climate change is awakening homeowners, who may have once dreamed for a certain style of garden, into realizing that a new, more sustainable approach to gardening is now needed.

“In the midst of our climate crisis and environmental destruction, Washington’s winters are bringing in more rain and colder temperatures while our summers are bringing in more drought and higher temperatures. What was a temperate climate is slowly becoming more extreme,” she explains.

“One of the biggest challenges we now face are forest and brush fires. Because of our increasing temperatures in the summer, many landscapers are implementing more California natives. The drawback is not all California natives thrive in our decreasing winter temperatures. So, instead of trying to control a shift in our plant hardiness zones, we must adapt and allow our plants to adapt. This, of course, comes with trial and often error. More and more clients are requesting drought tolerant plants in their gardens, and I am happy to oblige.”

(Be sure to check out the full story of Alexa’s Seattle-area garden design, including a list of native plants used in the design.)

An example of one of Alex’a garden design plans.

Alexa’s favourite Understory trees for Pacific Northwest gardens

  1. Acer circinatum (native Vine Maple) for its spectacular fall color and interesting structure.

  2. Cornus nuttallii (native Pacific Dogwood) for its cascading branching and delicate flowers.

  3. Cornus controversa 'Variegata' (giant Dogwood or Wedding Cake tree) for its gorgeous cake-like layers of branches and delicate variegated color.

  4. Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura) for its fall color and fragrance of leaves that smell like burnt sugar.

  5. Magnolia macrophylla (Bigleaf Magnolia) for its broad leaves that provide a tropical feel.

Alexa’s favourite ground covers for Pacific Northwest gardens

  1. Cornus canadensis (native Bunchberry dogwood) for its seasonal interest from flowers, to berries, to multi color leaves. (For more information on our native bunchberry be sure to check out my story here.)

  2. Frageria chiloensis (native Beach Strawberry) for its fruit, flowers and evergreen interest.

  3. Ophiopogon 'Nana' (Dwarf Mondo) for its hardy evergreen blades that can withstand heavy traffic.

  4. Erigeron glaucus (native Seaside Fleabane) for its spring through fall blooms.

  5. Erigeron karvinskianus 'Profusion' (Fleabane) for its delicate white and pink flowers.

Alexa’s favourite Shrubs for Pacific Northwest gardens

  1. Vaccinium ovatum (native Evergreen Huckleberry) for its edible berries and sculptural element.

  2. Ribes sanguinium (native Flowering Currant) for its vibrant flowers.

  3. Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn' (California native Manzanita) for its red bark, bell shaped flowers and silver leaves.

  4. Picea abies 'Pusch' (Norway Spruce) for its hot pink cones and pin cushion shape.

  5. Rosa nutkana (native Nootka Rose), for its rose hips and just to add a bonus, Corylopsis spicata (Winter Hazel) for its winter flowers.

Incorporating natives and non-natives in the landscape

While Alexa strives to incorporate more and more native plants in her landscapes, clients needs often dictate the use of non-natives. In many cases, non-natives are already well established in the gardens.

“My designs meet the clients where they are, and I incorporate many different aesthetics that cater to the clients needs and desires. That being said, I will always see myself as a student in anything I pursue. The more I learn about the benefits of using strictly native plants, the more I turn to them, explains Alexa.

(If you are looking for more information on the importance of using native plants in our gardens, check out my comprehensive post: Why we need native plants in our gardens.

“There is a list of plants that I strictly avoid in our area. These include invasive species that drive out beneficial pollinators, degrade habitat, cause disturbance in the food web, and even chemically alter soil biology. This doesn't even cover genetically engineered plants which is an increasing technology being utilized that has known and unknown consequences. The most important act we can do as gardeners and landscapers is educate our clients on what is appropriate for our area and be cognizant of our watershed, soils and precious species.”

Alexa gives much of her success and knowledge of plants to her friend Bre Moravec.

“My friend and fellow gardener Bre Moravec, owner of Gaia Gardens is the perfect example of this. She goes the extra mile to educate herself to educate others. Because of Bre’s passion she has mentored me and other gardeners, teaching specialty pruning methods and in depth plant species knowledge and identification.”

How Covid changed the way we garden

When asked how important she thought it is for homeowners’ physical and mental health to surround themselves in a landscape they love, and how rewarding it is for her when her clients fall in love with their new gardens, Alexa responded: “It has always been important, but ever since the Covid pandemic it is more important than ever.

“There have been studies that time spent outside, specifically in a more natural setting improves sleep, lowers overall inflammation, enhances blood flow, repairs cells and tissues, and improves electrical activity in the brain. How amazing would it be if we can access this from our backdoor! I love helping my clients transform what was once an uninviting space into a space in which they and their families can retreat to, where it is safe because they know chemicals aren't being used, and they can enjoy all the benefits and pleasures that our seasons bring.

(If you are looking for more information on the importance of being outdoors in nature and in our gardens, you will want to check out my post Why kids need more nature in their lives.

And what does Alexa love most about her job?

“My relationships with my clients and time outside bring me most joy. The most difficult hurdle about this job is probably Washington’s weather. We’re known to get a lot of rain here!

For more information, or to contact Alexa about landscaping, visit her website at Understory Gardens.

If you are looking for more inspiration, you may be interested in Gardens of the Pacific Northwest.

If you are on the lookout for high quality, non-GMO seed for the Pacific North West consider West Coast Seeds. The company, based in Vancouver BC says that “part of our mission to help repair the world, we place a high priority on education and community outreach. Our intent is to encourage sustainable, organic growing practices through knowledge and support. We believe in the principles of eating locally produced food whenever possible, sharing gardening wisdom, and teaching people how to grow from seed.”

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What are the best bird feeders: Wood or more modern plastic bird feeders?

The days of wood bird feeders are quickly giving way to Resin feeders made out of recycled plastic containers. These resin containers look great and are more importantly, easy to clean.

Avian flu outbreak is good reason to move to modern resin-based or plastic feeders

I love wood as much as the next guy, but when it comes to bird feeders, today’s more modern resin/plastic bird feeders are always the better choice.

The new plastic or resin-based feeders are easier to clean and keep clean and that helps to reduce the spread of disease among our songbirds.

This is especially important now with the emergence of Avian flu, which can be devastating to large flocks of birds that come in contact with the virus. It struck earlier this year in parts of the United States with primarily waterfowl and migrated north to northern states and into Canada. It was detected in Ontario in March of this year entering from migrating birds.

According to Cornell University’s All About Birds website: There is currently very low risk of an outbreak among wild songbirds, and no official recommendation to take down feeders unless you also keep domestic poultry, according to the National Wildlife Disease Program. We do always recommend that you clean bird feeders and birdbaths regularly as a way to keep many kinds of diseases at bay. We also always recommend that you follow any recommendations put out by your state government, such as the recent request to take down feeders in Illinois.”

Woodpecker on Wild Birds Unlimited recycled plastic feeder.

Woodpecker on Wild Birds Unlimited recycled plastic feeder.

Cornell reports that as of mid July, 2022, “they’ve detected the HPAI strain in 1,826 wild birds, with 41 detections in songbirds.

The website also reports that “Songbirds are much less likely than waterfowl to contract avian influenza and less likely to shed large amounts of virus, meaning they do not transmit the disease easily.”

The CDC reports the following: “Infected birds can shed avian influenza A viruses in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with the virus as it is shed by infected birds. They also can become infected through contact with surfaces that are contaminated with virus from infected birds.”

White breasted nuthatch on recycled plastic feeder.

White breasted nuthatch on recycled plastic feeder.

What can we do to reduce the spread of Avian Flu?

I have seriously reduced the amount of feed I use this year, preferring to put out just a little of the no-mess blend on a daily basis. This eliminates seed build-up and keeps the number of birds at the feeding station down considerably.

For more on purchasing these bird feeders on a budget check out my best bird feeder finds.

Having plastic or resin bird feeders is no guarantee that your backyard birds will escape the deadly virus, but plastic feeders are easier to keep clean and should help keep the birds at your feeder safe. Regular cleaning of the resin feeders is quick and easy. A quick wipe with bleach gets the job done and this will not damage the resins.

In fact, a quick look at the Wild Birds Unlimited website shows 12 eco-friendly (resin) hopper bird feeders and only a single wood hopper feeder. I’m sure more are available in-store, but there is no question that the eco-friendly recycled plastic feeders are proving popular despite their high price tag.

Wild Birds Unlimited is not the only location where you can purchase high-quality, plastic feeders. If you are looking for a stylish addition to your garden, Look no further than Garret Wade’s impressive line of feeders. Their church-style-bird feeder is currently on clearance and would be a good choice as both a high quality bird feeder and piece of garden art.

Wild Birds Unlimited is a leader in the industry when it comes to backyard bird feeding. They describe their EcoTough Classic hopper-style feeder as a high quality feeder that “won’t crack, fade or rot. EcoTough® feeders are environmentally friendly, high quality products made from recycled plastic milk jugs. … Perch drains allow seed to drop out of the feeder for ground-feeding birds to eat, and angled perches let empty seed hulls be blown away by the wind. The removable screen bottom is treated with EcoClean® Product Protection, providing 24/7 product protection.”

If you are looking to set up a bird-feeding station, be sure to check out my post on Setting Up a Bird Feeding Pole.

At our feeding station, plastic, or more appropriately resin, certainly takes centre stage. All wood products have been replaced with resin ones including two WBU hopper-style feeders, a catch tray that doubles as a platform feeder and a suet feeder for our woodpeckers.

The resin feeders, although expensive, are extremely well-built and will likely last a lifetime if treated and cared for properly. Using a jet of water from the hose or even a power washer is not likely to damage these sturdy feeders and will clean out any food that might have built up. Wooden feeders eventually break down and, for the most part, are unable to withstand many power washings.


Two of our Wild Birds Unlimited hopper feeders (a large one and a smaller one.) Cleaning is easy and the feeders stand up to both the weather and squirrels.


Any other feeders in our yard are either steel or a combination of steel and plastic.

The only feeder with wood is a small, stylish copper and cedar feeder that is kept separate from the main feeding area and is filled once a day with only a handful of safflower seeds.

In addition to the array of resin hopper feeders available at Wild Birds Unlimited, there are also resin bark butter feeders, and a series of rustic feeders.

Similar plastic feeders are available at other specialty bird stores as well as more affordable versions at Amazon with, for example, the Woodlink Premier Bird Feeder with suet cages and the Birds Choice Hopper Feeder in medium green.

These feeders are built to withstand everything our friendly squirrels can throw at them and keep performing at their best.

If you are thinking about creating a bird feeding station, investing in a single recycled plastic hopper feeder is an excellent choice. Over time, you can add additional feeders and build a high quality bird-feeding station that is easy to keep clean and will last a lifetime, while providing the birds with well thought out feeders that will help to keep them safe.

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Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Are raccoons good for the garden?

Raccoons can be very beneficial in your woodland garden, but too many of these masked bandits are a recipe for problems.

Take steps to discourage over population of raccoons

A quick search on the internet and you would think Raccoons are the devil incarnate when, in fact, they can be welcome visitors to our gardens much like foxes, coyotes and other animals that share our garden spaces with us.

The problem is not raccoons, the problem – not unlike so many in our gardens – is too many raccoons. That’s especially true in smaller urban and inner-city backyards where they can quickly become overpopulated, get into trouble and too easily invade our living spaces.

If you’ve had a family of raccoons living in the attic or taking over your shed, you may not be quick to welcome them back.

A digital portrait of a young raccoon.

My digital portrait of a young raccoon is evidence of just how cute these little masked bandits can be.


Can raccoons be beneficial in a garden?

But did you know that, despite the mischief they seem to get into regularly, these cute little critters are one link to ensuring healthy landscapes?

These masked bandits can play an important role in garden pest control as well as seed distribution throughout the garden.

(Read on for more details on how raccoons can be beneficial in the garden.)

While raccoons in small numbers can be good for a garden, they can pose dangers if they get into your home and live in the attic or chimney. (More details on the dangers of the raccoon at the end of the post.)

But first, back to the problem of when the numbers get out of hand and there are too many raccoons in a given area.

This ballooning population is often the result of either a lack of predators and/or too many resources that allow for a disproportionate number of raccoons to survive comfortably in a given area.

In the wild, raccoon density is usually about 5-10 per square kilometre. In urban areas that number can climb to as many as 100 raccoons per square kilometre. And, where the situation is particularly out of hand, those numbers can get up even higher.


Obviously, predators can play a major role in keeping the population down. The problem is that raccoons are fierce little mammals and have few predators in the wild let alone inner cities.

A raccon’s main predators include mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, dogs, wolves, Great Horned Owls, and fishers. Besides coyotes, foxes, dogs and maybe Great Horned owls, few of these top predators are found in urban areas and even fewer are found in inner-city cores. Here, traffic easily accounts for the highest death rates in raccoons.

Even traffic, however, can’t stop these little critters. Studies have shown that in urban areas, part of a mother raccoon’s training for her babies is learning to cross the road quickly leading to a reduction in road kills.

In our woodland garden we benefit from the existence of foxes, coyotes and birds of prey including owls that I suspect keep raccoon numbers manageable.

In fact, I rarely see raccoons in our garden even at night. When I do see them, they are almost always under the bird feeder, which I ensure has very little if any feed remaining on the ground as evening approaches.

A high quality, no-mess bird food and a catch tray to keep seed off the ground goes a long way in keeping the ground around the feeders free of bird seed.

Despite problems with raccoons, there are good reasons to admire them and welcome them into your environment.

A young raccoon pokes its head out of the ferns near our front porch.

A young raccoon at home on our front porch among the ferns, coleus and hostas.

Do’s and don’ts to create a healthy environment for raccoons

  • Do not leave cat or dog food out at any time. Feed your domesticated animals inside your home. If you must feed them outside, be sure to bring in the dishes or ensure there is no food remaining at night.

  • Do leave old dead trees (snags) remaining in your garden. Cut off branches that might pose a threat to humans, but leave the main trunk (or at least part of it) for habitat. You might be surprised what you attract, including a family of owls.

  • Do not leave access points uncovered in your home or shed where raccoons could gain access to your attic or chimney.

  • Do leave a large brush pile in a corner of the yard where raccoons can forage for food or even possibly burrow in for the winter.

  • Do not use poisons in the yard to kill small mammals or insects that could be prey for raccoons.

  • Do grow a variety of berry, fruit and nut bearing shrubs and trees to provide raccoons and other wildlife with a natural food source.

  • Do not trap raccoons and move them far away into a forest or another part of town.

  • Do provide a water source for them. If there is one thing raccoons need, it is a source of water. Originally raccoons were found in the tropics where they could be found foraging along riverbanks. Today, a small pond or patio container of water is enough to satisfy their needs.

  • Do not allow bird seed to pile up under your feeders. Use a high quality seed and catch trays to keep the ground under feeders free of large quantities of seed.

Raccoons are excellent at pest control

Did you know that raccoons are excellent at pest control – both insects, small mammals and reptiles – not only eliminating problems but cleaning up any remains. For this reason, it’s important not to use pesticides in the garden for fear of poisoning the very animals that are tasked with the job of keeping the garden free of certain pests.

A raccoon forages for food in the grass.

What do raccoons eat in their natural environment?

Much of the success of raccoons is based on the fact they are omnivores – meaning they will eat, similar to humans, just about anything.

In fact, a typical diet of a raccoon in a natural environment is made up of about 40 per cent invertebrates (including everything from insects to crustaceans like crayfish that live in fresh-water streams), 30 per cent plant material, and another 30 per cent vertebrates (such as small mammals including mice, birds and reptiles.)

Young Raccoons (called kits or cubs) have a range of sounds

  • Young raccoons chitter to call their mom, or when they are interacting with one another

  • Raccoons also purr much like a cat when they feel happy and safe, often when they are in the den with their mother

  • They will bark and growl quite viciously when they feel they are in extreme danger

  • Young raccoons will actually scream if they feel extremely frightened

  • As they get older, they make more of a chattering sound to communicate with family members

  • Adult raccoons will snarl and growl loudly when they are protecting their young or a food source.

Raccoon on a fallen tree high in the forest canopy.

Raccoon on a partially fallen tree high in the tree canopy.

Where do raccoons live in natural environments?

Raccoons inhabit a wide range of environments including forests, shrublands and grasslands. They are even known to keep up to 20 denning areas at one time.

These masked bandits are sometimes categorized as “little bears” because they are closer to the bear family than the cat family.

Racoons are members of the Procyonidae family. Wikipedia classifies it as a “New World family of the order Carnivora.” This group includes our North and Central American-based raccoons. Just for a little perspective, members of the Procynonidae family also include ringtails, cacomistles, coatis, kinkajous, olingos, and olinguitos.

How did raccoons migrate so far north?

Raccoons are originally from warm climates but have used trains, and trucks to migrate north where they found barns and sheds to aid their northern migration and escape cold winters. Now, raccoons have been found as far north as Alaska.

A baby raccoon adventures out into the world in search of a new adventure.

I was able to photograph this baby raccoon in the backyard after it ventured out of its den in search of an adventure.

Why is Toronto called the raccoon capital of the world?

Racoons are common in the United States and most parts of Canada, especially in large cities like New York, Chicago and, in Canada, Toronto, which has become known as the raccoon capital of the world. Estimates show that there are 50 times more raccoons living in Toronto than in the adjacent countryside. This has helped to earn them the reputation as the raccoon capital of the world.

Raccoons are extremely adaptable animals thriving in natural, rural woodland areas as well as in heavily urban areas.

Are country and city raccoons different?

Studies have even shown that country and city raccoons have adapted into two very different creatures. There are the shy reclusive raccoons that make their homes in the country, and bold city raccoons that are right at home sharing backyards with human neighbours. Some studies have shown that they are quick learners and this enables them to be so successful in very urban areas.

Are raccoons smart?

Some would call raccoons the quintessential generalists that are able to live in a whole variety of habitats. Part of their success stems from the fact that they are smart animals able to adapt to a range of environments and habitats. They are also able to figure out basic puzzles and obstacles through persistence and brain power.

Raccoons see urban areas as opportunities rich in resources including both food and habitat. They are particularly successful in exploiting their surroundings and more than able to move into buildings where there are structural defects that allow easy access.

One of the important features that help these animals be so successful in an urban environment is the dexterity of their “fingers.” These long slender fingers are particularly sensitive to touch and allows raccoons to manipulate both food and complicated devices to the point where they can easily open garbage cans and doors (even those fitted with locking devices).

Do raccoons come out during the day?

They are primarily nocturnal, however, don’t be surprised to see them up and about during daylight hours especially in fall – much like bears – when they are looking to increase reserves in preparation for winter.

Although raccoons are rarely seen in winter, they do at times come out of their hibernation (more a torpor) to obtain food or water. Seen here is a young raccoon in the cold of winter.

Although raccoons are rarely seen in winter, they do at times come out of their hibernation (more a torpor) to obtain food or water. Seen here is a young raccoon in the cold of winter.

Do raccoons hibernate during winter?

You might wonder why you rarely see raccoons during winter. Are they hibernating? Technically, raccoons are not true hibernators although, like bears, they store body fat throughout the summer and into fall so they can sleep through the coldest part of winters, especially in colder environments in the United States and into Canada.

Raccoons actually go into a state of torpor during winter where they sleep for extended periods to reduce the amount of energy needed, but at the same time are aware of changing conditions including threats from predators.

Where do raccoons live in nature?

In natural rural areas, raccoons set up dens primarily in hollow trees but have even been known to take over smaller animals’ underground burrows where they spend the winter tucked away with family members to stay warm. In urban environments, where hollow trees (or snags) are immediately removed by most homeowners, attics, sheds and chimneys are substituted for the comfort of hollow trees.

Since raccoons are less active during the winter, you may not even know they are living with you in the home’s attic until they begin moving around in spring.

Let’s get back to the benefits of these little masked bandits.

Besides pest management, what other benefits do raccoons have in our gardens?

Since raccoons are voracious eaters of seeds, berries and fruit, they play an important role in seed distribution both in the wild and in our gardens. Many seeds require a certain type of stratification which can be achieved by going through the digestive system of racoons and other mammals. One look at their feces in fall and you’ll see quite clearly that they are working hard at this important job.

Is raccoon poop/feces dangerous?

You may ask that besides a bite from a raccoon, what other dangers can a raccoon pose to humans?

Any animal feces can be dangerous in the garden, but it should be noted that a raccoon can carry a particularly dangerous strain of roundworm in their feces. It is particularly dangerous if ingested, but this is not uncommon if you have toddlers around or pets. The real danger are the eggs of roundworm that are in the feces. They can spread to the soil around the feces and survive for extended periods of time in the soil.

In addition to raccoon roundworm, raccoons can pose dangers to our pets including canine distemper, Leptospirosis, parvovirus, mange, fleas and rabies.

How dangerous is raccoon roundworm?

Raccoon roundworm should not be put in the same category as other roundworms because it is a much more serious problem for humans. Dogs can carry raccoon roundworms and be a spreader of the illnesses associated with it.

Roundworms come from eggs in raccoon feces and if left untreated in humans, these eggs can hatch and worms can spread to our brains resulting in serious neurological problems leading to loss of coordination, seizures, coma and eventually possible death. The worms can also travel into your eyes causing vision impairment and eventual blindness.

Roundworm contraction is most often found in children who play in soil or sand outside where raccoon feces is present. It can also be contracted by people in close contact with raccoon feces like if the animals are living in your attic and you try to extricate them on your own without experts.

If you think you or your children may have been exposed, contact your doctor immediately to obtain a deworming medication.

Try to leave snags like these in the garden to give raccoons safe places to raise their young.

Try to leave snags like these in the garden to give raccoons safe places to raise their young.

Can you trap a raccoon and bring it out to a forest?

The answer, in most cases, is no you cannot live trap a raccoon and move it to the forest.

There are two reasons why this practise is unacceptable.

First, it is too easy to separate a mother from her kits when they are vulnerable and cannot survive on their own.

More importantly, however, is the potential to spread rabies and other diseases. Governments restrict the movement of wildlife through human intervention if there is a chance that the animals may have rabies. This practise helps to limit the spread of rabies.

How to get raccoons out of your attic

The more acceptable way to rid an attic of raccoons is to hire a wildlife company that will chase the adults out of the house and then screen off any access points back into the attic. Once that is completed, any raccoon kits that are left in the attic are removed and put into a special reunion box and left nearby for mom to find. The mother raccoon will quickly find her babies and relocate them to another den in the area.

Young raccoon foraging for food in the back garden.

A young raccoon foraging for food in the back garden.

Are raccoons aggressive?

Raccoons are not generally aggressive animals unless they feel threatened or are sick or injured. Absolutely raccoons can be aggressive if they feel threatened or are cornered. They come equipped with sharp teeth and know how to use them if necessary. But they are not dangerous in a normal garden setting where they do not feel threatened. Just make sure they know you are around and it is unlikely that they will stick around.

If a raccoon is aggressive, contact your local animal control because it could be injured or be carrying rabies.

Never corner a raccoon, say in a garage or shed. Instead, open the door and let them leave on their own. Better to make the environment they are in less attractive for them so they leave on their own.

For all kinds of reasons, keep your dogs and other pets away from raccoons if possible. It is however, not unheard of that raccoons can befriend family pets and live in harmony, but better not to encourage that behaviour.

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Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Saving our native Humble Bumble Bee

The Bumble Bee needs to be celebrated for the work it does quietly and without a lot of fanfare. You can thank this native bee for the spaghetti sauce on your pasta and the toasted tomato sandwich that you ate for lunch. Unfortunately many of the native bees face an unsure future.

What’s the big buzz about Bumble bees?

Could there be a better bee than our humble Bumble?

A tireless worker that really does not get the credit it deserves. While the non-native honey bee gets the spotlight in the media and just about anywhere climate change comes up, our native Bumble Bee just keeps going about its business and getting the job done.

And quite the job it does.

The Humble Bumble Bee deserves a lot more credit for the work it does in our gardens and agricultural fields.

In case you are not aware, the Bumble bee is the one that brings those juicy tomatoes to your table. In fact, without them, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be chowing down on that spaghetti or toasted tomato sandwich.

It’s the Bumble bee that is the primary pollinator of tomatoes, not the honey bee.

Why? you may ask.

Bumble bees, unlike honey bees, are capable of buzz pollination. The problem with pollinating tomatoes is the fact that on most flowers the pollen is located out on the end of a stalk on the anthers and easily accessed by most pollinators.

However, explains Paige Embry in her informative book Our Native Bees, “some flowers, including those of tomatoes, hide their pollen inside the anthers so it has to be shaken out. A Bumble bee does this by grabbing the flower in its mouth, curling its body around the anthers and rapidly contracting muscles in its throax, causing vibrations that shake the pollen right out of the tiny holes in the anthers, like shaking salt from a shaker. This activity makes a buzzing noise, and so, buzz pollination.”

So the next time you pick a tomato from your garden, you can thank our humble Bumble Bee.

For more on how we can help save our native bees, check out my story on making a lawn for native bees.

But most tomatoes these days are grown in greenhouses throughout the year. The challenge that faced commercial growers was how to pollinate these tomato plants in a greenhouse, in the winter when there are no Bumble bees around to get the job done.

Going back to 1891, scientists tried to unlock the secret to pollinating tomato plants without the Bumble bee, to very limited success.

Then, according to Embry: “in 1985, Roland de Jonghe a Belgian vet and bee enthusiast put all the bee rearing information together with the fact that a colony of Bumble bees could pollinate a greenhouse full of tomatoes way better than a bunch of people with vibrators or blowers. Since Bumble bee nests only last a few months, people would need new nests every year, and de Jonghe saw the business potential of those Bumble bees. In 1987, he started the first business rearing Bumble bees for commercial use. … By 2004 close to a million colonies of Bumble bees pollinated nearly 100,000 acres of greenhouse tomatoes worldwide, with an estimated value so large that I thought it was a typo accept it was written the same way twice. 12,000 million Euros (about $14 billion) per year.”

Okay, so we now we know the value of our native Bumble bees.

Let’s now take a closer look at these interesting, almost cuddly little creatures with the furry backs.

Do Bumble bees live in hives?

Bumblebees, of the genus Bombus, are common native bees and are important pollinators for many of our woodland wildflowers. Like honeybees, they are social and live in a hive, but one that is the fraction of the size of a honey bee colony – think hundreds rather than thousands.

How many different types of Bumble bees exist?

In the United States alone there are 49 species of these native bees, separated into three different classes depending on the length of their proboscis, or tongue – short, medium, and long. The length of their proboscis will help dictate which species pollinates the various flowers, although some short-tongued Bumble bees have come up with an ingenious way to feed on Long-tube flowers by biting holes in the flowers near the nectar source and feeding through the hole.

Are Bumble bees threatened?

According to the United States Forest Service, Bumblebees have become a conservation issue, resulting from habitat fragmentation caused primarily by human activities, the use of pesticides, as well as disease transmission and the loss of native floral resources.

In the U.S., just in the past few years, two species of Bumblebees have likely gone extinct: Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini) originally found in a restricted geographic range from southwest Oregon to northwest California; and another species from the eastern United States, which was once found from Canada to North Carolina.

In Ontario alone, there are three at-risk bumble bee species: Rusty-patched (Bombus afinis), Gypsy Cuckoo (Bombus bohemicus) and Yellow-banded (Bombus terricola).

Where do Bumble bees live?

Bumble bees, like most native bees, are primarily ground nesting bees. In spring, the queens begin to emerge from underground where they have spent the winter, and begin to look for a nest site, which can include an already existing but abandoned mouse or rodent burrow.

Bumblebees visit flowers where they feed on the the nectar and pollen. Once their eggs have hatched, they use the plant resources to feed larval worker bees. Unlike honey bees that store large quantities of honey in order to survive winter, Bumble bees may use empty cocoons for short-term storage of nectar.

In a single summer, the Bumble bee queen produces a few generations of workers, which then take over the task of collecting nectar and pollen and help rear the final generation of the colony, which includes queens for the next summer, and males to mate with them.

The colony has all but died out by late fall. All that remains is a few workers and males, as well as the the new queens. These bees burrow into the ground to wait out the cold winter to, once again, begin the process the following spring.

How can we help Bumble bees?

There are reasons you often see native gardeners promoting the practise of leaving your leaves where they fall to help insects and other fauna survive winter.

Well the Bumble bee is a good case in point. Queen Bumble bees overwinter in our gardens in underground burrows and the leaf cover provides protection and helps hold in heat that is vital to their survival.

Check out my earlier post on Why We Need to Leave Our Leaves.

So, in addition to leaving your leaves on the ground in the fall and over the winter, it is also important to provide the native bees with plenty of fall flowers, especially native plants like asters and goldenrods. These late blooming plants are an important food source to enable next year’s queen bees to build up stores of food to last them through the winter in their dormant state.

In addition, refrain from digging up your gardens in early spring to allow the queen bumble bees to leave their underground burrows and begin their new hives.

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Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

The Garden pond vs. Container pond

A garden pond is likely the single most beneficial act you could do to attract wildlife to your backyard, but not everyone wants to make that commitment. An alternative is to use a garden container pond which brings water into the yard and allows you to grow many of the plants that woul grow in a pond.

Adding water offers opportunities to grow new plants

Everyone loves a little water in the garden, but not everyone wants a full fledged garden pond.

For some, it’s the potential danger a pond might pose to children or grandchildren. For others, it’s the perceived maintenance a full in-ground pond requires to keep it looking and performing its best that convinces them not to install a garden pond.

No matter large, small or simply in a container, a natural pond will transform your garden probably more than anything else you can add to your garden and attract more wildlife to your yard than you could ever imagine. Install it right, and it will perform and look spectacular for years to come with minimal maintenance. If it’s a container pond, lower your expectations, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself falling in love with your tiny container pond and the plants that call it home.

I would love a pond in our current backyard.

In fact, at our previous home, I installed a lovely little in-ground pond complete with a waterfalls. It was the focal point in a massive backyard DIY landscaping project that took an average suburban backyard surrounded by pools, outdoor decks and acres of grass, and installed an island of natural plantings. To say it was a magnet for backyard birds would be an understatement.

It’s difficult to not love the beauty of a water lily in a pond. The same lilies can be grown in a container pond.

Installing a backyard oasis

My little backyard oasis began soon after we moved into the home. I noticed the builder was digging up massive boulders around the neighbourhood and looking to get rid of them. I was more than happy to take them and asked him to drop them in a corner of the yard. The massive boulders weighed close to a ton but through a series of levers and a whole lot of muscle (which I had back then) I was able to manipulate the boulders into a semi circle that became the perfect little secret garden in corner of the yard.

The circle of boulders in the corner of the yard became the “source” of the perceived water that would eventually run along a dry river bed surrounded by birch trees and grasses before flowing over some rocks and spilling over a small waterfall into a pond.

The recirculating waterfalls helped keep mosquitoes at bay and the moving water created sound in the yard to drown out much of the typical noise related to suburban gardens. Fish and frogs were added to the pond that eventually resulted in more fish and tadpoles and frogs. Insects, dragonflies and lots of birds visited the small pond in the middle of suburbia.

A full-sized pond really needs a proper combination of plants to keep it healthy and looking its best. The large pond needs a mix of plants including:

• Aquatics – a group of plants that have their roots submerged. Aquatics include water lilies, and lotuses as well as golden club, water hawthorn, and water violet.

• Floaters – plants include water lettuce and duckweed, which float on top of the water. This group of plants help reduce algae by blocking sunlight and competing for nutrients. Unfortunately, they also block you from seeing the water and can quickly overwhelm a smaller pond because they reproduce so quickly.

• Oxygenating – plants are mostly submerged, though it’s not unusual that part of them protrude above the water. Their ability to add oxygen to the water is particularly important if you include fish in the pond. Look for plants such as cabomba, anacharis and myriophyllum.

• Marginals – these plants take up residence in the shallower areas of the pond, along the edge or in the boggy area around the edge. They include both deep- and shallow-water plants and include cattails, forget-me-nots, sedges and rushes.

• Bog plants – These are the moisture-loving plants that thrive in extremely soggy soil and include Irises and sweet flag, ferns, astilbes as well as shrubs including dogwood varieties.

Container water gardens really only need a few of these plants to maintain a healthy balance. Most often an Aquatic plant like a water lily is combined with a few floaters like water hyacinth and an oxygenating plant.

Getting back to our former home and small pond. I truly loved that pond and was particularly proud of how it turned out. Eventually, I added a large overhead pergola with random flagstones that overlooked the pond. Large pines and cedars across the back increased the sense of being in a natural environment.

But there was no hiding the fact we were in the middle of suburbia.

So we moved.

The container pond is an option that can allow the gardener to grow plants they would not have been able to and attract wildlife at the same time.

Going from a garden pond to a container

In our current home, although I would love an in-ground pond, I knew that unless the pond was large and deep, it would be an ongoing battle with local wildlife to keep the pond from becoming a playground for racoons and other critters. I also did not want to fence off our large property partially for the cost, but more important, it would keep out much of the wildlife I was trying to attract to the yard.

Therefore, I settled for a patio pond container which I was able to find used on Kijiji . The pond involves almost zero maintenance but still gives me some of the benefits a full, on-ground pond brings to the landscape.

Let’s not kid ourselves, however, there is no comparison between an on-ground pond and a container pond.


I also installed a small DIY bubbling rock to give wildlife access to fresh water at ground level without the maintenance of a pond.

If you can and are willing to install a pond in your yard, I can guarantee that you will not regret it. I will add though, make the pond bigger than you think you want it. You will thank me later.

But, even a small pond will create an environment in the yard that is attractive to all types of fauna – frogs, toads, snakes and dragonflies – not to mention the birds and the mammals that will come to depend on the reliable source of water.

If you live in an area where winter brings freezing temperatures, keeping even a small area of the pond ice-free could become a lifesaver for a number of animals and birds. A small bubbling device is usually all it takes to keep an area of the pond ice free.

The benefits of a garden pond to area wildlife is undeniable, but for many it’s the ability to grow water plants and possibly even bog plants that make ponds and container ponds irresistible.


Marsh marigold, one of our native plants, are just one of the beautiful plants that can be grown in a bog area on the edge of a pond.


Water lilies in the garden

Water lilies (Nymphaea) are a good case in point.

In her informative book Natural Landscaping, Gardening With Nature To Create A Backyard Paradise, Sally Roth writes: “It’s amazing how satisfying even a tiny water garden can be. If you only have room for one plant, grow a water lily. They may seem costly when you compare the cost to perennials , but even the most common types are exquisite. A single water lily, partnered with a glimpse of dark, shining water, is a delight to the soul.”

Water lilies grow to between 3 and 6 inches tall and can spread out to between 4 and feet wide. Full sun will bring out more flowers which can vary in colour from blue, purple, yellow, red, white and even pink. Hardy waterlilies can survive in zones 4-10, whereas the tropical varieties, which often have larger flowers and a better range in colours, need to be brought in during winter or treated like annuals. The tropical varieties tend to be more fragrant and are available in day-blooming and night-blooming varieties. Hardy varieties only bloom during daylight hours.

I remember the first time a water lily bloomed in my pond. (see image below) That was an exciting time. Water lilies alone offer a wealth of possibilities for the gardener.


You don’t need a huge pond to grow one or two of the colourful flowers. Even a small pond will allow you to experience the joy of these plants.

But don’t think a large pond in the only way to grow a water lily. I have successfully grown them in my container pond.

What can you grow in a container pond?

Many of the plants that can be grown in a large on-ground pond can also be grown in a small patio container pond.

But, as Sally Roth writes in Natural Landscaping: “The biggest problem with container water gardens is that they’re too small. Water plants move faster than Napolean, an their aim is the same – to expand theri empire. Even if you choose well-mannered plants, you’ll soon run out of room for more than a few. What to do with the rest? If you are still not ready to install a pool, try a metal horse trough,” she explains.

She suggests painting it black with a can of matte-finish spray paint. I’m not sure how that would look in every garden but it certainly would give you the room to grow more plants.

Unlike a traditional pond, our container pond is always emptied at the end of the season. Mine is concrete based so leaving it full all winter could result in damage. I empty the container, turn it over for the winter, and refill it in the spring.

I try to store the plants over the winter from year to year. Some survive the winter in the shed, others do not and must be purchased each year. The good news is that the container is small and takes just a few plants to fill it up.

Duckweed and Water hyacinth help to quickly cover the pond and create shade which helps to keep the water free of algae.

Besides water lilies, I always grow Water hyacinth, (Eichhornia crassipes) whose roots help to keep the water clear and whose purple blooms can be stunning in the container pond.

Ruffled Water Lettuce (Pistia Stratiotes), Water Mint (Mentha aquatica), Corkscrew Rush (Juncus spiralis), Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia spp.) are some of the best plants for containers as suggested by the website Pondinformer.

Build a bog garden for the ultimate in plant varieties

A bog garden is the ideal addition to a backyard pond, but it can also be installed in isolation by using a perforated plastic liner that holds water for an extended period of time and keeps the soil moist (almost wet).

Better still, if you have an area in the garden that stays wet just plant bog plants and let them take care of the wet area of the garden. Consider adding Cardinal flower for a dramatic effect and lots of hummingbirds and pollinators. The bog garden opens up a whole new world of opportunities.

Marsh Marigold is a local native plant that also does well in a bog garden. Also consider plants like the Ligularia with its tall yellow spikes.

Staying in the yellow family, Iris pseudacorus ‘Variegata’ can be a good choice.

Another plant to consider if the bog area is large, includes Cornus Alba a dogwood shrub with bright red stems.

Conclusion: Be sure to include a pond in your garden

A good size garden pond is an outstanding addition to any garden and one that will likely change the relationship you have with your backyard. The wildlife that the pond will bring into the landscape, the new plants and the movement the pond creates is difficult to overlook.

For the most part, the ponds are too shallow to pose serious danger to older children. My first pond was installed when my daughter was about six years old. The pond quickly became a hit in the neighbourhood with my daughter’s friends who took turns searching for the frogs, fish and other wildlife. Rather than being looked at as only a danger to children, consider them like an outdoor science classroom and an incredible learning experience for our children and grandchildren.

And, if the pond makes you too uncomfortable, consider the benefits of a container pond, which offers many of the same benefits a full-fledged pond brings.

Either way, a pond will be a great addition to your deck, patio or even in a corner of the yard where you enjoy taking in the early morning sun.

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How important are skunks in our gardens?

Skunks are extremely beneficial in our gardens helping to reduce unwanted visitors. These gentle creatures pose no threat to us and are rarely seen accept at night.

An evening of garden photography with a friendly skunk

There is no reason to be afraid of a skunk in your backyard. In fact, skunks are gentle creatures that benefit nature and our environment by controlling insect populations and other unwanted garden visitors particularly the dreaded Japanese beetle, cutworms, hornworms and grubs, along with small rodents like mice and moles.

So, I was thrilled to recently spend some time in the garden and add images of skunks to my collection of garden photography wildlife images.

The negative publicity these animals have to live with struck me the other day when I was sitting in my favourite chair in the garden waiting for the neighbourhood fox to show up. The skunk came in from behind me, (paying no attention to the guy sitting very still in the chair) and proceeded to walk by on her way to another part of the garden. She went unnoticed until I caught the white tail out of the corner of my eye. A beautiful, white fluffy tail carried proudly above her for all to see.

A few weeks earlier the skunk decided to pay me a visit on the patio. I would have let it join me on the patio accept my dog, Holly, was sitting beside me. Thankfully she did not notice the skunk until I quietly asked it to leave the patio with a gentle hand motion and soft, persuasive voice. As soon as it saw me, it moved away just as Holly noticed her. I had my hand on her leash to keep her from going after the skunk. That was another fun adventure but much more stressful with a dog at my side.

There’s no mistaking a skunk for, say, a black squirrel. Although they look similar, they carry themselves quite differently. Unlike the sometimes frenetic pace of black squirrels, skunks move slowly and deliberately, possibly because of their relatively poor eyesight and possibly to let other woodland animals know that they are around.

Our gentle skunk spent the evening with me showing off her beautiful tail and looking for grubs and other insects.

I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with the skunk as it rooted about the garden not far from me (but far enough.) She did not seem bothered by my camera and flash going off with her every movement. Although I did not hide from her, and was not in my Tragopan blind, she seemed quite happy to go about her business.

Actually, because of her poor eyesight, I’m pretty sure she didn’t even realize I was there, especially considering she was more than happy to make a bee-line directly toward me.

That’s the time our evening photographic adventure came to an abrupt end. When she started moving toward me through the grass where I was sitting, all it took was for me to wave my hand slowly and speak gently to her for the little skunk to realize it might be better for her to head in another direction. She abruptly turned around and waddled off into the ferns to go dig up some more grubs.

It was a great garden photography encounter and one I’ll not soon forget.


What’s my favourite garden photography wildlife lens?

What made the encounter a little more unusual was that there was still plenty of light left in the sky and, although I used the flash at times hoping to create a catch light in the skunk’s little eyes, I much preferred the more natural images taken without flash on my Pentax K5 DSLR fitted with my favourite wildlife lens – the FA300mm F4.5. Originally built for film cameras, the smaller sensor in the K5 gives users an effective 420mm F4.5 focal length. I have a 1.4 converter that I use occasionally to get in even closer.

The white stripe starts on its head, runs the entire length of its body and explodes on its magnificent tail.

Skunks help rid your garden of snakes

Did you know that, much like opossums, skunks are immune to snake venom and are more than happy to rid your garden of poisonous snakes. We don’t have any poisonous snakes where I live so I’d prefer our little skunk keeps mice and voles and other critters in check rather than kill the few snakes I’ve seen in the garden.

Keep skunks safe in your backyard

In our backyards, as long as we do NOT use pesticides, skunks are safe from their biggest cause of death.

Weak eyesight means that skunks’ greatest threat is being hit by cars and trucks while they are trying to cross a road. The evidence is hard not to notice when out for a drive. If you don’t see them lying dead on the road, you certainly smell the results of the collision.

In our garden, it is more likely they will fall victim to a Great Horned Owl who are one of the few birds or animals that see the little stinkers as prey. Turns out Great Horned owls’ lack the sense of smell needed to be repulsed by the odour skunks use as a self defence. That makes them easy, slow moving prey for the owls massive claws.

Fox kits with a road-killed skunk

These fox kits seemed to enjoy playing with the dead skunk more than anything else. The den was situated beside a road so I suspect that it was killed by a car and salvaged my the mother fox for her kits. And yes, it did smell but not too bad.

Do fox consider skunks prey?

I have photographed a dead skunk outside an active fox den (see above) but I suspect that the skunk was a victim of a car rather than the mother fox. In fact, I have watched on our trail camera video of a fox and skunk interacting, and neither was looking for a fight.

Although coyotes, foxes, dogs, bobcats, mountain lions, badgers and big owls are known to eat skunks, few put it anywhere near the top of their list of fine dining.

So I don’t think skunks need to fear a fox or other large predators despite the fact that they will eat them if they find a skunk as road kill.

Are skunks a threat to my family?

Skunks are not a threat to our families. They can be an annoyance for dog owners if a family of skunks decide to build a nest under our deck or shed. If you don’t want them there, ensure that efforts are made to keep them from getting under decks by installing fencing that reaches under the ground and makes it difficult for them to dig under it.

It’s not fair to the animals to move them once they have had their families under your deck. Take steps to encourage them to eventually move on from under the deck (playing music in the area of the den), in the meantime, keep your dog away from the area until the skunks leave. Your dog will survive with daily walks or visits to the local dog park until the skunk family moves on its way.

Skunks can carry rabies, but there is apparently no known deaths caused by contracting rabies from a skunk.

Know when to back off

It’s much more likely you will be sprayed by a skunk rather than bitten by one. It’s important to know, however, that skunks don’t just run around spraying people and dogs at the first chance they get.

The skunk sprays a very strong musk oil from 2 anal glands. Even baby skunks, whose eyes have not yet opened, are capable of spraying in self defence.

Spraying is, however, the last thing skunks want to resort to in self defence because, once they use all their spray, they are left completely defenceless for up to ten days – the length of time it takes for the skunk to replace the musk.

Well before a skunk sprays, it will give you a warning to back off. First it stomps its feet on the ground and hisses making it clear it is very uncomfortable with your presence. It will make their bodies in a u-shape before aiming its anal glands at its unfortunate victim. That’s a good time to gently and slowly back off making it clear that you are no threat.

Why did I get sprayed by a skunk?

People are most often sprayed when they surprise a skunk in very close proximity and don’t have time to assure it that you are no threat. It’s a good idea to always expect a skunk as evening sets upon us. Keep an eye out for them when stepping outdoor into your garden and avoid sudden movements that might be mistaken as a threat. If you are with your dog, be sure to keep it on at SHORT LEASE rather than a retractible one that is best left for walks during daylight hours.

Are there different varieties of skunks?

There are actually 12 different species of skunks but not all of them live in North America. Skunks can also be found in South America, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Striped skunks: Most of us are familiar with the cat-sized striped skunk with the white stripe down the middle stretching through its long black tail. They are the ones at home in the woodland as well as in suburban areas.

Spotted skunks: have three white spots on their faces and four more on their backs in addition to six stripes on their tails. These guys are more the size of squirrels and like to climb trees. These are the fellas who stand on their front paws to take aim at their victims. These skunks can be found in the eastern U.S., Mexico, and more rarely in southern Ontario, Canada. The Mexican pygmy spotted skunk is more the size of a rat and is considered the smallest and rarest of our skunk species.

Hooded skunks: An interesting skunk with faces that are framed by a shaggy white mane that covers the tops of their bodies from head to the tip of their tails. It’s unlikely you will come across this species unless you are hiking in rocky areas of southwestern North and Central America where they live in burrows near streams where they survive primarily on insects.

Hog-Nosed skunks: These skunks feature pig-like snouts that help them root for food in their southwestern U.S. homes or in Central and South America where three other species of the hog-nosed skunk can be found.

Stink Badgers: Recently welcomed into the skunk family in 1990 are found in parts of Indonesia, Philippines.

Check out my article on getting prepared in advance for a skunking. Hint: make sure you have hydrogen peroxide and baking soda handy. Forget the tomato juice unless you enjoy smelling like tomato juice and musk.

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Why do I smell skunks in mid February?

Why am I smelling skunk every night when there is still snow on the ground? Chances are you are experiencing a female skunk sending a strong message to an amorous male looking to mate or quite possibly two males letting off a little steam over the chance to mate with a female.

Why are we seeing and smelling skunks in the middle of February?

The ground is covered with two feet of snow and skunks seem to be everywhere – we see them roaming through the back and front gardens and smell them on a nightly basis.

What gives?

Turns out female skunks are down right stinkers when it comes to fending off amorous male skunks looking to mate, and all this takes place in mid February right around the time of Valentine’s Day.

That explains the nightly smells we get sitting in our family room – not enough to suggest a full-fledged unleashing of the musky odour experienced when one of our striped friends unleashes on an excitable canine – but enough to get your attention. Especially if it’s right outside the door.

A skunk looking for food in the early evening in the garden. I was out hoping to get a photograph of a fox and the skunk showed up instead with its beautiful tail.

The mating season brings out more of these solitary, elusive animals as they look for partners to begin families. It’s a time when male skunks are more active asserting dominance over other males, while females skunks, who are either not ready to mate or choose not to with a particular male, use their musk glands to fend of advances. These encounters cause both the males and females to spread small amounts of musk – just enough to make us take notice.

You may also be getting a slight odour from under your shed or deck where they are living. Be sure to give them plenty of space and move slowly around them, but they are harmless and very beneficial so it’s much better to learn to live with them than have them removed.

This mid-February odour is not near as strong as you will experience when skunks are killed along the road or when they use it in self defence after being frightened by a neighbourhood dog.

Be prepared for a skunk spray. Check out my post on what to do if your dog or family member has been sprayed by a skunk.

What are skunks’ breeding habits?

Female striped skunks give birth to kits in early spring around April and May after mating in and around mid February. Females can breed in their second summer and give birth to as many as four to seven babies. Older females can come into estrus earlier than younger female skunks and may have litters earlier in spring. Following a sixty-day gestation period, the kits are born in shallow dens or, more likely, under sheds or decks in our yards.

Born blind and deaf and sporting short, fine fur, babies are nursed in the den for about six weeks before venturing out of the den for short excursions with mom. The young skunks are usually weaned from their mother by two months of age.

By fall, the family members have gone their separate ways, travelling as far as 50 kms but usually no more than 5-10 kms, looking for new territory.

Skunks and Great Horned Owls: A deadly combination

We’ve lived in our current home for almost 25 years and have only experienced skunks in the past few years. Where did these skunks come from?

Although we live in a heavily forested area surrounded by conservation lands where you would expect to be living with skunks, up until recently they were nowhere to be seen. I firmly believe that the reason we are experiencing more skunks in our neighbourhood is the result of a severe decline of the Great Horned Owl – skunks’ greatest natural predator.

Typical neighbourhoods offer a cornucopia of food for these shy, inquisitive animals in the form of unprotected garbage cans and pet food left out on decks and back patios. Acres of manicured grass provide skunks with an abundance of grubs, other insects and even mice, just to name a few.

Coyotes, foxes and other predators know enough not to tangle with skunks and will not prey on them unless they are desperate, but Great Horned Owls’ lack of smell allows them to prey on skunks.

This makes the Great horned Owl the primary predator of striped skunks. Although skunks can weigh up to three times more than a typical Great Horned Owl, the deadly talons of the owls make them efficient killers of skunks, whose only real defence is their ability to spray the strong sulphur musk. The owls’ huge, deadly talons combined with their ability to squeeze up to 500 pounds per square inch, means this crushing grip will often kill larger prey like skunks instantly.

The fact that skunks like to travel at night, just when the Great Horned Owls are on the prowl, makes them easy prey. In fact, it is reported that one owl nest contained the remains of nearly 60 skunks.

With an average life span in the wild of between 5-15 years, a Great Horned Owl can certainly do its part in keeping neighbourhoods free of skunks.

That’s good a good reason to do all you can to encourage Great Horned Owls to your neighbourhood. The best way to accomplish this is not to cut down dead trees, especially those that are large enough to provide habitat for these large owls. See my earlier article on the importance of leaving snags in your garden.

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Wildlife rescue: Living with foxes and other garden wildlife

If you are fortunate enough to have foxes living in or near your garden consider yourself lucky. These entertaining little critters are great to have in your yard to control mice and rats.

Are foxes good or bad to have around the garden

All Photographs by Jennifer Howard

Count yourself lucky if you are fortunate enough to have a fox living in or visiting your garden on a daily basis.

Besides keeping rodents like mice and rats at bay, having a fox family living or visiting your woodland garden is likely a signal that your garden is healthy and offers good habitat for an upper level predator. That includes access to an abundant supply of food, water and shelter.

“If you are lucky enough to have a family of foxes move into your yard. Please try to let them stay. It’s a wonderful experience watching them raise their kits from a distance,” explains Jennifer Howard, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitator at Procyon Wildlife Centre in Beeton Ontario.

“They are incredible parents and to be honest, until the wee ones start to come out of the den at around 3 to 4 weeks you may not even know they are there,” she adds.

A beautiful photograph of a fox rambling through the garden.

Can foxes be removed from your yard humanely?

If having a family of foxes in your yard is unworkable, you may be able to gently convince the family to move on to another denning site.

“Foxes do have more than one den. If they are disturbed too much by their human neighbours the foxes will move their kits to another den,” explains Howard.

Playing music near the den and staying close by making some noise whenever possible might be enough to convince the parents to move the kits to a second den. You should never use loud noises to stress out the animals.

“But personally, if it were me,” says Howard. “I would be thrilled (with the fox family) and would work around it. And allow them their space. They have a hard enough time as it is living in our world of craziness, what is a few months of sharing. After all, it was their space first and we are taking it away at an alarming rate. It’s very sad,” she adds.

There is no need to feed foxes in the backyard. Foxes are perfectly capable of finding thier own prey. When they do, they pounce on their prey to stun it before eating it.

Should I feed foxes in my backyard?

Feeding foxes, unlike birds, is not a good idea. These upper level predators need to retain their wildness and eat a healthy, raw diet rather than become habituated to eating processed food provided by humans.

“They are wild,” says Howard. “both parents feed the kits and teach them how to hunt. They need to stay wild and eat the proper diet. The kits learn from their parents and you are not helping if you feed them. In fact, you may do them more harm.”

The only time Howard recommends feeding foxes is if the animals are being live trapped for medical reasons.

“They don’t need your help. They are born into this world to hunt live prey or eat road kill,” she explains.

But the biggest reason not to feed the foxes in your yard is the risk of the fox “losing their healthy fear of humans.”

“Not all humans are kind,” she says. “Because the foxes are not afraid to approach people for handouts, they may be shot or injured in some other way.”

Foxes that have been fed by a human can begin to approach other humans who think there is something wrong with the animals usually attributing the friendliness to rabies.

A fox makes itself at home in the garden, sitting in a wooden barrel.

Will feeding foxes attract other animals

“By feeding our furry critters you have no control over who you will attract – Opossums, raccoons, skunks, weasels, rabbits, and even bears,” says Howard.

Feeding foxes also creates the potential of increasing rodents in the backyard.

“Since rodents are the main food source for foxes, if you feed the foxes they may have no need to eat the rodents you have attracted. An abundance of rodents in the garden is never a good thing especially if they find a way into your home or shed.

Howard adds that feeding foxes could also attract a sick animal with distemper or mange to your yard, which, in turn, could infect otherwise healthy animals or even pets.

“Distemper is a horrible disease to which there is no cure,” she adds. “It affects the animal’s brain and it is the worst thing for wildlife rehabilitators because euthanasia is the only thing we can do,” adds Howard.

“Raccoons and skunks have been awful,” at the Procyon Wildlife Centre, explains Howard. “Raccoons carry raccoon roundworm which can be contagious to your pets and you. But raccoons show no sign of having the disease and it doesn’t harm them. Distemper can be passed to foxes as well. Do you still want to feed them? Keep them wild, let them hunt and forage for food the way Mother Nature intended them to do, and what they know to do. These are incredibly beautiful animals that have been forced to coexist among us. And they do that very well.

Will foxes attack our cat or dog?

Foxes have virtually no interest in attacking your cat and even less in attacking a dog. A fox’s life depends on staying healthy and any injury, even a small one that could result from say a cat’s claws, could end in death for the fox. These animals are too intelligent to pick a prey that is a potential threat to them. A mouse, grasshoppers and maybe a squirrel or rat are better choices.

It needs to be noted, however, that a kitten, puppy or very small dog might be prey for an adult fox, especially if it is feeding kits. These animals should never be left out alone in the backyard anyway.

“Let them continue to coexist on their own, they won’t eat your cats or dogs or attack you. You now must learn to coexist with them. It’s a beautiful relationship when it’s done right,” Howard adds.

More information from Ferns & Feathers on Foxes

The Fox Den in your backyard

Wildlife Rescue: The Year of the Fox

The urban fox and why we need them

Why do foxes scream

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Wildlife Rescue: The year of the Fox

Mange in foxes can be deadly if left untreated but it is relative easy to cure if the application of proper medication is given in a timely fashion. Follow Procyon Wildlife volunteer staff as they tackle an onslaught of wild foxes inflicted with mange. Their rescue and recovery and eventual release.

All photos courtesy of Jennifer Howard

Is mange in foxes fatal or easily cured?

The year 2021 will be memorable for the wildlife workers at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre for one reason: Foxes and plenty of them.

The wildlife centre in Beeton Ontario north of Toronto was inundated with red foxes in need of help.

Most of the foxes that were rescued by centre staff suffered from mange, but a few were admitted for head trauma resulting from collisions with vehicles. All of the foxes were saved and most have been released. Depending on the severity of the mange, and how early it was caught, curing the animal can be relatively easy with proper administration of medication. However, if left untreated foxes will die from mange.

“In years past we would maybe get two, up to maybe five foxes in the wildlife centre,” explains Jennifer Howard, a volunteer rescuer and rehabilitator at the centre.

“At the moment we have four foxes in our care and, I believe, this is the most we have had in at one time,” Howard explained at the time this article was put together in late fall. “Usually it works out that one is ready to go when a new one comes in. It was almost like an assembly line of foxes coming and going. it was pretty crazy!”

“However in 2021 it was an extremely bad year for mange, Howard explains. In Innisfil (a small village in rural Ontario) alone I got 19 foxes all with mange in various stages. Plus we got a couple car collisions from other areas and other cases of mange from other areas. All total I believe about 28 red foxes were admitted last year.”

Some of those foxes celebrated New Years at the facility and were still getting treatment into january 2022.

And the situation does not appear to be letting up. Already, the wildlife centre has admitted its first fox of the year on January 6 with mange.

For more on the work wildlife rescue and rehabilitators perform, be sure to take a look at my entertaining and informative article about Angels For Wildlife.

This fox shows advanced mange illustrated by bare patches and crusty, scabs on the skin.

For those who may not know about Sarcoptic Mange, sometimes called canine scabies, it is a type of skin disease, caused by parasitic mites. The mites that cause mange in mammals embed themselves by burrowing into the animals’ skin or hair follicles.

If left untreated, mange will cause the animal intense itching from an allergic reaction to the mites’ feces. Severe crusting develops on the animal’s skin that often becomes infected. The combination of infection, crusting (often around the eyes) and hair loss can progress until the fox is unable to care for itself or hunt, and it loses the insulation from its fur resulting in a slow and painful death.

If you see or have foxes in your garden, check out this article on the Fox Den in your garden and helping fox with mange.

The good news is that, if the animal is rescued in time, treatment is simple enough that they can be returned to the wild in most cases in a few short weeks. Secondary problems that may or may not be related to the illness can be more difficult to treat and result in a longer stay at the wildlife center.

Ever heard a fox scream. It’s terrifying but fascinating. For more on why foxes scream, check out my post here.

(More on the identification and treatment of mange in foxes is spelled out in this earlier article in Ferns & Feathers about recognizing mange in foxes living in, or using your woodland/wildlife garden.)

The good news is that all the foxes at Procyon Wildlife Centre are doing well and are either already set free or are on the road back to freedom.

“Some of those foxes had other issues, sores on their rump, minor injuries on a leg or foot, or were severely emaciated. But mange was the dominating issue,” Howard explains.

Many of the foxes admitted last year were kits, but thankfully, they were old enough so no special treatment was needed in their care.

But, a few years back, there was a special, very young little fox that was found alone in the snow with its eyes still closed.

“She was found in the snow with some fur from the den around her. No one knew how she got there,” explains Howard.

The tiny fox “was hypothermic, hungry, dehydrated and in critical condition” when they rescued her.

One of Procyon’s board of directors and animal caregivers took her home for round-the-clock care. Residents in the area even “donated fur coats to us so we could swaddle the tiny fox in fur (just like she would have received from her mother).” A soft stuffed toy was added for her to cuddle.

“She was adorable. She came back and forth on the days her caregiver came in only after she was stable. She became more curious day by day and was handled by only her caregiver at that time,” explains Howard.

Her story, as told by her caregiver Sarah Marrs Bruce, is one staff won’t soon forget.

Talitha, a tiny rescued kit, needed round-the-clock care until it got old enough to begin eating on its own.

Meet Talitha: Procyon’s youngest and tiniest fox kit ever

When Talitha arrived, she had been called in as a baby raccoon.

This, most likely, was because her fur was still in the grey phase and not showing any of the typical red fox colouring yet. The colouring can take a few weeks to grow in, in the meantime serving as a part of the kit’s protection against predators – helping them blend into their dens.

She was still eyes-closed and estimated to be approximately 7-10 days old.

Staff used stuffed animals to keep Talitha comforted when she was alone.

She had been found in a snowbank surrounded by torn up fur that could have been from litter mates or her mother. It took a couple days to get her stabilized – warmed up and hydrated and able to handle diluted specialized formula.

She needed comfort but we needed to be very careful about not habituating her to humans. Once her eyes were open we provided her cuddle buddies that were stuffies (including one that had its own heartbeat). At the same time we blocked visual access to her caregiver (in an attempt to keep her as wild as possible.)

She progressed quite quickly from nursing on a “magic nipple” to eating a soft-porridge-like food made from a combination of species specific infant formula mixed with liquified kibble.

The images below show Talitha growing up with her buddy and her eventual release.

As soon as she could feed herself without assistance and was gaining weight reliably on her own, she was quickly moved into a larger outside enclosure to even further reduce her exposure to people. At that time we began searching throughout the province for another fox near her age that she could socialize with. Foxes are very social animals and it was essential to her development to be around other foxes to learn vocalizations and normal social behaviour with conspecifics.

“Caring for her was one of the highlights of my experiences as a volunteer and one that I won't ever forget. Her release together with another fox from the area was a joyful day for myself and several others.”

Work at the Centre never really ends

“After the baby stages, we are very careful to limit the handling of the animals to very few people, explains Howard, “Especially fawns, raccoons, foxes and coyotes, who are easily habituated to humans.”

Staff where gowns and masks and try not to speak in the presence of the animals. They only go out to feed and change the animal’s water at this point.

Rehabilitation Centres from other parts of the province work together to create the best environment for the animals to grow up knowing how to act and survive out in the wild.

“These species also need others of their kind, to bond with, play with, and learn from each other. That is of utmost importance so they do not get attached to their caregiver. We will search for others their age until we find one from other rehabilitation centres, then they either come to us or we go to them.”

In conclusion

The dedication and commitment shown by the volunteer staff at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation and Educational Centre is a testament to the type of people who have a special place in their hearts for our wild critters. This same dedication is to helping wildlife occurs everyday in rescue and wildlife refuges in the United States, Canada, the Europe, and throughout the world in countries big and small. Animals of all kinds, from the largest elephants to the tiniest creatures. As habitats are destroyed, either from natural calamities such as wildfires to the slow encroachment of urbanization, it is important for gardeners to do our part to recreate habitat in our yards for many of these creatures.

It is also falling to us to keep an eye on our backyard friends to ensure they are safe and free from illness. That includes everything from keeping our bird feeders and bird baths clean to stop the spread of disease, to taking immediate action if we see a sick or injured animal such as foxes suffering from mange in our woodland/wildlife gardens.

Take the time to look up your local wildlife refuge and make a donation. If you can donate your time or skills, I’m sure they would welcome it with open arms, if you cannot, a financial contribution to any one of these non-profit groups will go a long way to help them help our wild friends.

Ever wonder why foxes scream out in the night. Check out my story here.

The following are helpful Resources for homeowners looking for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation assistance


In Canada

In the United States

• Here is an extensive state-by-state listing from the Humane Society of the United States on how to find a wildlife rehabilitator

In the United Kingdom

• The British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council includes a clickable download of UK rehabilitators

• Here is an extensive list of UK Animal Rescuers from Animal

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Fox Vic MacBournie Fox Vic MacBournie

The Fox den: How to find and identify it in the garden

Finding a fox den in the forest or in your backyard is always an exciting experience. Consider yourself lucky to be able to watch the kits grow up and the dedication the parents have as they teach them how to make their own way in the world. The den is often a series of tunnels with separate compartments for sleeping and stashing a cache of food.

How to help foxes with Mange

Finding and identifying a fox den can be either extremely difficult if it is a new, recently dug den site, or quite easy if it is a well-used den with multiple entrances and exits.

If you have a fox den in your garden and notice they are developing Mange, go to the bottom of this story for guidelines on how to help the fox fight off mange.

A well-disguised den can be as simple as a small entrance tucked under the roots of a mature tree hidden by tall grasses. The more complex dens that have been used for several years can have multiple exits and entrances (sometimes even into the teens) and a maze of deep underground tunnels that allow the foxes easy escape if a predator enters one of the den tunnels.

In our woodland gardens, however, dens are often more easily discovered in the spring after the vixen digs a den under a small building such as a garden shed or deck. The kits – usually between 1-10 in each litter – are usually born between March and May. In fact, a number of studies in the U.K. found that urban foxes were attracted to the convenience of building dens under the roof of a garden shed. A study in Bristol found 37 per cent of dens were dug under backyard garden sheds. Similar studies reported foxes found a home under a shed 15 per cent in Oxford and 25 per cent in an area of London. An Australian study found that 44 per cent of urban foxes set up their dens under some form of building.

Five tips to find and identify a Fox den

  1. A fresh mound of dirt and a hole about a foot in diameter.

  2. Within a few feet of the den you may find animal remains at times. there should be evidence of predation because fox will often eat their prey near the den

  3. location of the den is often near former, well-used dens where the fox have moved on to construct a new den.

  4. Fox will often create a den on the side of a steep bank in typically well-drained gravelly soil. The fox parents will often use the top of the bank as a lookout where they search the area for predators.

  5. There will often be well travelled trails leading to the main denning site as well as less pronounced trails leading to secondary entrances of the denning site.

If a fox family chooses your garden for its denning site, don’t be surprised if you hear them communicating at night either through soft sounds or through very loud bone chilling “screams.”

In addition, be thankful that your urban fox family will do an outstanding job of clearing your garden of rats and mice which they prey on to keep the kits well fed.

Also, don’t be surprised if things like leather work gloves or shoes begin to go missing in your gardens. Parent foxes will often steal from the garden and bring them to the kits who use them as “toys” that begin to teach them the basics of hunting.

This den, which is actually nothing more than a teel culvert on the side of a busy road near my home, has been used for at least two years.

How long does a fox family use the den?

It’s important to remember that foxes do not treat the den like a what we would call a traditional home. Foxes, not unlike birds, build the den as a short-term location used primarily to give birth and raise their kits in relative safety.

The den is also used to store caches of food as well a safe place to go during severe weather, especially during extreme cold winter days or in stormy weather.

It is not a lifelong residence or even a location where the fox family would remain for a full year. They may visit the site on occasion, but normally only for brief periods.

The family usually leaves the den in a matter of weeks, often moving to another location, as the kits begin to explore or go out in the world to find their own way.

Foxes will often carve out a den below the roots of a dead tree.

What if a fox family takes up residence in your garden?

If a fox decides to make your garden the location to raise its family, consider it an honour. The parent foxes have decided that your property offers what they need to safely raise their family – which includes an ample source of food and water nearby and a location where they feel safe from other predators.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre (TWC), a highly respected animal rights organization in Canada, state on its website that both “foxes and coyotes are an important part of our shared, local ecosystems. By understanding their normal habits and behaviours, we can learn to coexist peacefully and even develop a deeper appreciation for our wild neighbours.”

The organization does recognize that there are times when a fox family builds a “den to raise their young underneath porches or in earth banks on urban properties. Most people count themselves quite lucky to be onlookers to such a fascinating nursery, but on rare occasions where the den is in a truly unsuitable area, fox and coyote residents can sometimes be encouraged to move their pups to an alternate den site using simple harassment methods.”

The Wildlife Centre states on its website that “playing talk radio and sprinkling human urine next to the den opening for several days is often enough to convince the family to move on.” Putting sweat-soaked socks in the area is also unappealing for fox and coyote families and has been successful in encouraging the family to choose a new site.

Are foxes a threat to humans and pets?

TWC goes on to explain that “under normal circumstances foxes and coyotes are not a threat to people.” They do warn, however, that animals “who have been habituated because they were fed are still unlikely to initiate any contact with people, but they occasionally may come too close for comfort.”

TWC is quick to point out that “limiting human food sources is the best way to prevent conflicts with foxes and to help keep them wild.”

Smaller pets including cats and dogs are traditionally not in danger around a fox, but could be attcked by coyotes if left unattended in the backyard.

Foxes have actually been known to get along with both cats and dogs to the point where they often become garden friends, playing and even napping beside one another.

It’s best, however, too never leave small pets alone outside in either urban or rural backyards. There are just too many dangers in both environments, including larger, more aggressive pets that could get into the yard and attack smaller pets.

How to help a fox with mange: Call a professional

When we first moved into our home more than 20 years ago, fox were a common sight in the neighbourhood. Shortly after moving in, however, mange went through the local fox population killing most of the resident foxes. It took them years to recover, but today a fox sighting is almost a daily experience if you keep an eye out for them at both ends of the day.

Mange continues to be a serious threat for these animals and one of the main issues animal rehabilitaters deal with every year.

Mange is caused by a burrowing mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) which infests the skin of foxes and other canids from our own pet dogs to coyotes and wolves. The resultant scratching causes significant trauma to the skin which develops thick grey, foul smelling crusts with extensive hair loss. As a result, the animals become so sick that they are unable to hunt leading to a painful death.

If you notice a fox in your garden developing a case of mange, it’s best to contact an animal rehabilitater who can provide the best care possible for the fox.

Jennifer Howard, an Ontario animal rebilitator with Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre in Beeton, Ontario, emphasises that the first step is to call your local wildlife rehabilitater right away. To find a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario visit Ontario Wildlife Rescue. Individual States have their own organizations you can contact in the U.S. and similar groups are available in the United Kingdom.

She explains that not all vets are wildlife trained and dealing with mange requires the expertise of trained rehabilitaters.

Some fox enthusiasts suggest homeowners give a fox with mange Ivermectin in food set out for them, but Howard warns that doing that could be dangerous to both the fox and other animals.

“I know we will not give or recommend Ivermectin to anyone,” she explains. “We give it by injection at Procyon every 2 weeks with usually 2 doses doing the job or sometimes 3 doses. Ivermectin can also be given by mouth once a week. But you need the weight of the fox before administering it,” she explains.

“When we bring the fox in or any animal in the first thing we do is weigh it. That’s important to get the proper dose of meds. Ivermectin can be dangerous because there are certain breeds of dogs that can die if they ingest it, other wildlife can die if they ingest it, and without proper weight you can cause an overdose in the fox.” Howard explains.

“We had a fox come in to the centre January 6th that we weighed twice because it said she was 6.5 kg. She is a mangy fox and normally they are underweight. She sure surprised us. Some come in very tiny but don’t look it. What I’m saying here is there is no way of really estimating their weight properly. And some need more than mange meds, they may need eyes flushed and or antibiotics, wounds dressed etc. even heat lamps.”

Howard explains that “Bravecto is what we give them just before they are released into the wild as it protects them for another 12 weeks. But that too is toxic to certain other animals. You must be absolutely certain and mindful that the right animal would get it and that isn’t always doable. It’s kind of like, if your not experienced or trained under a wildlife rehab do not give meds. Our vets even say ‘no. It’s too risky.’”

Howard explains that she knows that in the U.S. things are different and even here in Canada people do administer meds on their own, but “you may actually do more harm than good if it goes wrong. And other animals, including pets, can die.”

Bravecto, she explains, can kill cats and other wild animals.

You’re not going to toss a medicated piece of meat out into the yard and run out to try grab it if the wrong wild animal or random feral cat or someone’s pet comes in to snatch it up. I know my dog is bad at grabbing things and fast, even though it is on a leash. … And that’s what we are there for, to help,” she explains.

Howard says there are “exceptions to this rule with, say a nursing vixen with mange. But, again call a wildlife rehab expert and they will help you. Always make that call. It’s so important, never ever take it into your own hands. Otherwise you may take a life instead of save one,” she warns.

Can mange be passed on to our dogs or humans

The simple answer to whether mange can be passed on to our pets and even humans is yes. Certainly our canid family members are susceptible to it, but it can be passed on to humans as well, although the mites are not able to complete their life stages on humans and usually result only in severe itchiness in humans.

How is the inside of the den constructed

If a family of foxes to decide to dig a den in your yard, you’ll likely only be aware of it because of a small entrance hole. What’s behind the hole can vary greatly.

The inside of a typical fox den can be as simple as a hollowed out room at the end of an entrance tunnel that may stretch up to seven metres or 23 feet in length. There have been reports of tunnels as long as 17 metres (56 feet). The longer tunnels with multiple exits is often the result of a den that has been expanded over several seasons and quite possibly by multiple fox couples.

Do foxes sleep in dens?

Although a family of foxes may sleep together in the den, the parents mostly sleep outside close enough to the den where they can monitor any threat that may appear, while the kits remain in the den.

In conclusion

Woodland gardeners should feel honoured to have a family of foxes living on their property. Besides being excellent for rodent control, a fox family will provide hours of entertainment in your garden, especially in early morning when you are enjoying your first cup of coffee, and later in the day when we are enjoying our first glass of wine.

In an urban setting, the fox is often the top predator in the area. Creating an environment that attracts a top predator probably means you are doing a lot of things right in your woodland garden. Embrace their presence and enjoy them in your yard while you watch over them. Keep an eye on them to ensure their safety and, if they are injured or sick, take the necessary steps to either nurse them back to health or ensure they get to professional rehabilitators that can help them.

Before you know it, the family will likely move on leaving you with only fond memories of the fox family that chose your yard to raise their young.

Consider it an honour.

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Fox, Wildlife Vic MacBournie Fox, Wildlife Vic MacBournie

Why do foxes scream?

Have you ever heard a terrifying scream at night in the garden or in a nearby woodlands? Chances are the bone-chilling sound was simply a red fox calling out for a mate. The piercing sound of a fox scream can shatter the peace of the woodland garden, but it is just one of the many vocalizations foxes make.

Terrifying screams ring out in Woodland garden

Have you have ever heard a fox screaming at night in the garden?

If you are unfamiliar with the sound, mark my word, it’s what horror movies are made of. Some describe it as a bone-chilling sound similar to a woman in distress. Others describe it as a child screaming in pain.

Despite the terrifying, high-pitched sound, it’s important to note that the scream is nothing more than a form of communication used by red foxes. The vocalization is one of a number foxes use. Rest assured they are likely not in distress, being attacked or fighting, although they could be warning another fox that they are in the area and to leave them alone.

The screams are often heard during breeding season in the spring. The scream is believed to be used by vixens (female foxes) to lure male foxes to them for mating, but males have also been known to let out screams occasionally as well.

Parent foxes with cubs may also use loud screams to warn off other foxes entering into their territory.

A beautiful young fox poses as it hunts for mice in the grass.

A beautiful young fox hunts for mice in the grass. Foxes have several vocalizations including a loud, piercing scream that can sound terrifying in the middle of the night in the woodland garden.

Foxes are territorial

Foxes can be very territorial and will aggressively defend an area from other foxes.

Their territory is very much dependent on the habitat but studies show that they have been known to hold territories as small as 0.2 square kilometres in urban areas where food is plentiful, to as high as 40 square kilometres in more natural areas. Each fox family group consists of a vixen (female) a dog (male) and their kits.

In areas where foxes are not hunted regularly, and there is plenty of food, a family group could consist of several adult offspring.

Because foxes are most active at night, you are likely to hear the screams late into the night, but as a video below shows, fox will scream during the day as well.

In my case, it was around midnight and, although the screams were clearly coming from the hedgerow in the back of the garden along a fence line, I never saw the culprit and had no idea what was causing the sound.

Check out my earlier article on the urban fox.

Fox screams are surprisingly loud

The sheer loudness of the scream made me think it was coming from a much larger animal than a fox, either a racoon or coyote.

I’ve heard a terrified rabbit, angry racoons in a battle and barking deer, but nothing is more terrifying than a single fox or, even worse, a couple of foxes running through the garden screaming at one another.

I experienced it recently while taking our dog out for her late-night bathroom break.

I was sure an animal of some kind was the victim of a predator.

There had to be at least two fox, maybe more, contributing to the raucous sound.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to determine the exact cause of the sound. YouTube videos provided the answer. If you have know idea what a screaming fox sounds like, check out these videos.

Two fox kits wait outside their den for mom to return

Two fox kits sit outside their den waiting for mom to return. Foxes can be are very territorial, especially when they have kits to protect.

Here is what a fox scream sounds like

I was not fortunate enough to record the fox scream in the garden but I’ve included some links here that provides both an audio and visual (see second video) example of fox screams.

Here is a YouTube video of a couple running through a forest around 1 am. The author suggests that it may have been parents distressed after a coyote or owl made off with one of their kits. It’s possible, but it may also be that the adults were communicating either between themselves or with their kits.

Here is a fun video of a fox seemingly wanting to play with a friendly dog in the middle of the day and letting the dog know it was not impressed when it ignored the fox. The video is particularly good because you can see the interaction and see the fox actually scream.

More Ferns & Feathers article’s on foxes

Wildlife Rescue: The Year of the Fox

Wildlife Rescue: Volunteers key to Wildlife Rehab success

The Fox Den and how to find it in your garden

Why foxes steal from our gardens: Fox got my croc

The urban fox: Easy Rodent control on four legs

What other vocalizations do foxes make?

Foxes, not unlike our dogs, coyotes and wolves, use numerous vocalizations to communicate with other foxes and kits. Their vocalizations are not as varied as our family pets.

The most common vocalization from a red fox are a quick series of high-pitched, almost yippy barks. Studies have shown that the bark sequence can be used as an identification system by other foxes.

The bark and scream are quite loud so are the most often heard sounds from a fox, but their are a host of quieter vocalizations used when foxes are in close proximity.

Gekkering is a guttural chattering with occasional yelps and howls that is often used by adult foxes during aggressive encounters as well as amongst kits playing around the den.

Parents will also use a sharp bark as an alarm call to alert youngsters of potential danger.

Submissive foxes will, not unlike wolves and coyotes, often emit piercing whines that often become loud shrieks as they approach more dominant animals.

Why foxes scream: A conclusion

If you are out at night in your woodland garden or hear a load scream through an open window, chances are good it’s a fox communicating with a partner or warning another fox that it’s intruding on their territory.

Having fox in your garden is a positive sign that your property is working as a natural resource for a host of animals including predators that help to keep rodents under control.

Rejoice, in their presence and embrace the many benefits they bring to our properties. They are fascinating animals that mean no harm to our family including our pets.

There are many examples of foxes hanging out with cats and dogs and growing so accustomed to people in the garden that they will tolerate a close approach as they explore the garden.

Remember, though, that these are wild animals and not pets.

Don’t be surprised if they decide your garden is as much their garden as it is yours. And don’t be surprised, if shoes, garden gloves and other potential “toys” go missing.

Check out my earlier story about why foxes steal from our gardens.

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Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Tips to keep rats away from bird feeders and out of your yard

Keeping rats and mice out of your garden involves taking a multi-faceted approach beginning with no-mess bird seed and a high-quality bird feeding pole. Ensure no birdseed stays on the ground overnight and encourage natural predators like snakes, foxes, owls and other raptors that will help control them. Try to reduce the birds’ dependency on bird feeders by using trees, shrubs and flowers that provide natural food for the birds.

Aim for a woodland garden where everything is in balance

Attracting rats and mice to your backyard is without a doubt the biggest reason most people give up feeding backyard birds, or worse, choose to not even begin feeding backyard birds for fears of attracting the rodents.

The problem is not feeding the birds, the real issue is feeding the rats on the ground under the bird feeders or, even worse, allowing mice and rats access to the feed on a feeding table or on your feeders.

I am happy to say that in the 20 plus years we have lived here, I have only seen two rats in the woodland garden. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of mice I have seen in the garden as well.

And, I have fed the birds since the day we moved here. I think setting up the bird feeders was actually one of my first jobs on moving day.

Creating a functioning natural woodland garden where nature is in balance will help to keep rodent infestations in check. Eliminating predators, for example, is a sure way to invite problems.

(Be sure to check out my article on The urban fox and how it controls rodents like mice and rats.) Be sure to check out my post on setting up a Bird Feeding Pole.

It’s important to understand that rats and mice are primarily night-time ground feeders. Our job is to ensure that there is no birdseed or even shells left on the ground in the evening to attract rats and mice. Also proper baffles will help keep rats and mice from getting to your feeders.

Seed cylinders are one of the ways to keep access seed from falling to the ground where mice and rats can get to it. I use a screen under the seed cylinder to catch any seed the woodpeckers might knock off and not eat.

Six ways to keep mice and rats away from bird feeders

  1. Use a single pole system that includes several baffles including a large racoon/squirrel baffle to keep squirrels off of the bird feeders and force them to clean up whatever feed falls to the ground.

  2. Place the pole in an area where squirrels or rats cannot jump to it from nearby trees, fences or other structures. Obviously we don’t want rats to have direct access to the feeders, but squirrels will often throw out a lot of food onto the ground if they get direct access to the feeders.

  3. Use a no-mess, high quality bird food and seed cylinders to ensure there is no waste at the end of the day gathering on the ground.

  4. Always use a screened seed-catch tray under the bird feeders but above the baffles to further reduce the amount of seed that falls to the ground.

  5. Encourage night-time predators such as owls and foxes to your yard. There is probably no better way to eliminate rats than having a resident owl on your property. Keep the area around the feeders open to allow these predators easy access to your night feeders.

  6. Reduce or eliminate areas in the garden where rats may choose to set up a home. Under sheds and decks are particularly favourite places where rats and other animals like to call home.

Here is a full length view of the bird feeding pole, baffles and seed catcher tray – all vital to keep rats and mice off your feeders and the ground underneath free of seed.

Three key ingredients to keep rats, mice and squirrels off of your bird feeders. It begins with a high-quality pole, followed by a large squirrel or raccoon baffle, a smaller cap baffle and a seed collecting tray to keep most of the seed from reaching the ground.

The importance of using a no-mess food

Ensuring that little or no bird seed reaches the ground and begins to build up under your feeders, involves a multi-faceted approach, but it starts with providing your birds with the highest quality feed.

A no-mess bird seed purchased from a bird store such as Wild Birds Unlimited is a very good start. If the birds, squirrels and chipmunks clean up all the birdseed that drops to the ground during the day, then there is nothing left for the mice and rats to eat in the evening.

Yes, the no mess blends can be very expensive.

By building a patio under the feeder, clean up is much easier and there is less chance mice and rats will be able to feed.

Wayne Huggins created a patio under his bird feeders to allow for easy cleanup to keep rats and mice out of the yard.


It’s hard to justify spending three or four times the cost for a bag of no-mess feed vs a similar sized bag of mixed seed from a big box store. Remember though, the no-mess food is almost like a concentrated bird seed. You should use less seed than you would if you were using a less expensive, all-purpose mix.

I don’t necessarily fill up my feeders. This way, if a squirrel mananges to get up on the feeder, it is limited in the amount of food it can get to and possibly spill on the ground.

The problem with most mixed seed is that any millet, corn or other filler is likely not to be eaten by the birds. In fact, birds such as blue jays, mourning doves, grackles, woodpeckers and a host of other birds will throw out the “filler seed” to get to the prized sunflower seeds resulting in a large mess building up on the ground.

Some of the seed that spills to the ground will be eaten by squirrels or ground-feeding birds such as Juncos and mourning doves, but the majority of filler seeds will remain on the ground to be cleaned up by mice and rats throughout the evening and into the night.

You may think the mixed seed is not a problem because the space under your feeders is always clean. You might not know that rats and mice are cleaning up the mess under the feeders until their numbers increase to the point that you begin seeing them during daylight hours.

It’s best to ensure you don’t develop a problem, than to have to deal with one after the fact.

Many will argue that a shelled black-oil sunflower seed is all that you need. I agree that it is an excellent seed to use but its shells still leaves a mess under your feeder. Consider combining it in small amounts with the no-mess seed to reduce the expense of feeding only a no-mess blend but not adding so many shells that they begin to add up under your feeder.

Many birds such as nuthatches will take the shelled sunflowers and hide them in trees during the winter months for use later further eliminating the build-up of shells under the feeder.

Use a high-quality pole system

I find that a centralized, single pole system with the proper baffles and seed-catching trays helps to focus my efforts to feed the birds and at the same time monitor any rodent problems in a single area.

Not unlike the high cost of no-mess food, a bird-feeding pole system that works to feed the birds and keep rodents off the feeders can be expensive.

The good news is that you can start simple and expand the pole over time. But whatever you do, don’t skimp on the tools needed to keep rats and squirrels off the feeder.

Buy a pole with a hook, a high-quality squirrel (preferably the larger raccoon baffle), a hat baffle, a tray to catch seed and a spike for the top that accepts seed cylinders. That should be sufficient to feed birds and keep rodents off the feeders.

I included a seed cylinder spike for the top of the feeder because it is an excellent source of food for woodpeckers and other birds but, more importantly, is inherently a no-mess form of feeding birds.

I wrote an extensive article on the value of seed cylinders that you can read here.

Our pole system is located far from the house, but close enough that I can monitor it from a window. I check it every morning and most evenings to ensure there are no unwanted guests helping themselves. In addition, because I regularly sit in my photographic blind near the bird-feeding station for hours on end, I know what is hanging out under the feeder, at least during daylight hours leading into the evening.

I also get to see first-hand how efficiently the ground under the feeders is cleaned up by a myriad of chipmunks, red and black squirrels and, of course, ground feeding birds most notably the Juncos, doves and wrens that love to root around in the mulch looking for scraps of seed.

I can say that they do a heck of a job keeping the area spotless.

Directly under the feeder, I have devised a system to ensure that little to nothing grows up. The no-mess food is the first component. Under the feeder is a thick layer of mulch that gets topped up a couple of times over the summer. Under the mulch, however, are thick plastic bags that were originally used to hold the mulch. This stops bits of seed from getting to the ground and sprouting up under the feeder and discourages mice and other rodents from burrowing underground near a potential food source.

I use other feeders in the garden, but they tend to be feeders that take only a handful of seed at a time and do not create a magnet for rodents. I use a small amount of no-mess seed that is eaten in a single day either by the birds or by squirrels who come across it before the birds get there.

Encourage natural methods to control rats

One of the best ways to keep rats at bay is by attracting, or at least not deterring, natural predators to the yard.

I realize that not every yard is lucky enough to have a resident fox or owl living in or visiting their small urban backyard. But, you might be surprised what actually visits your yard in the evening when you are sleeping. Fox are common even in very urban areas and owls can live in a large tree in your backyard without you even knowing it unless you are lucky enough to see them flying about in the early evening or morning or hearing their calls.

Many of us would likely not recognize the call of an owl unless it is the common call of a Great Horned Owl, which is unlikely to be living in your yard anyway.

A single screech owl feeding their young is known to kill several rats and mice over the course of one night.

Putting up an owl box in your yard is a good first step to attract them. I have written an extensive article about attracting screech owls to your yard. Be sure to check it out here.

If you are lucky enough to have a fox family set up a den in your yard, celebrate it. Watch the kits emerge and play in your yard. At some point they will move on to their own territory but in the meantime, they will clear your yard of any rat and most mice that live there.

Most importantly, do not use pesticides, including rodenticides on your property. Mice and rats that eat this poison could be eaten by the very predators you are trying to attract to kill them naturally. Also, the poison can kill animals that were never meant to be targeted including chipmunks, possums and racoons as well as your cat or dog.

What backyard animals kill rats?

There are a host of animals that will prey on rats.

  • Raptors (including owls)

  • Fox

  • Coyotes

  • Snakes (especially harmless but scary looking rat snakes)

  • Possums

  • Dogs (especially terriers)

  • Weasels

Reduce your artificial feeding stations

One of the simplest ways to keep rats out of the garden is to get to the point where the birds depend less on artificial feeding stations and more on the natural supply of seed, berries and nuts that grow naturally in your yard.

By providing these natural food sources in your yard, you will be able to reduce the birds’ dependency on the seed provided by your feeders at the same time as reducing your cost of purchasing extensive amounts of expensive bird feed. It will also help to attract a wider variety of birds to your backyard.

I have written an extensive article here about planting a backyard feast to attract and feed your birds naturally.

Attracting and feeding backyard birds naturally is worth checking out.

In conclusion: Putting it all together naturally

Try to establish a garden that is in balance with nature – one that welcomes predators as well as other animals that compete with rats and mice for food sources.

Create natural food for birds such trees, shrubs and flowers where they are less dependent on artificial, centralized food sources such as bird feeders, and ensure that your feeders are set up to discourage rodents from accessing them and from any food staying on the ground.

If you follow these suggestions, you are less likely to attract unwanted visitors and, if you do, they are more likely to disappear one night and provide food for the offspring of hungry predators.

Let nature be your guide.

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Garden heros Vic MacBournie Garden heros Vic MacBournie

The Internet of Nature: How technology could shape our urban forests of the future

Dr. Nadina Galle and her work with the Internet of Nature uses technology to shape the future of the urban forest. The Canadian born former Fulbright scholar and MIT researcher now at the University of Amsterdam uses ground sensors and satellite imagery among other technologies to help cities monitor, care for and protect the urban forest to provide a better place for people to live in future.

Dr. Nadina Galle got her “eureka moment” at the age of 12.

Terrified after watching a Canadian documentary called The End of Suburbia, she worried that the lifestyle she enjoyed growing up in a Canadian suburb in Waterloo, Ont., would eventually lead to the “collapse of the society (she) was born into.”

She remembers a happy childhood playing with her friends in their big, grass-filled backyards. It was a lifestyle, however, that even at an early age, she realized had its flaws.

“At the age of 12, I decided it would become my life’s mission to build better places for people to live,” Dr. Galle explains in her highly entertaining and informative TEDx talk.

“Born in the Netherlands and raised in Canada, I developed my love for the outdoors and my commitment to conserving nature from a young age. Reading works by Jane Jacobs and James Howard Kunstler as a teenager, I questioned the imbalance between nature and the encroaching urban sprawl I saw around me in suburban Canada,” explains the former Fulbright scholar and MIT researcher.

Dr. Nadina Galle is at the forefront of using smart technology to protect the urban forest.

Today, Dr. Galle is working at the forefront of smart nature-based solutions, exploring how technology can transform the way we care for our natural urban environment. Her website The Internet of Nature is a treasure trove of information about how technology can benefit the urban forest including links to her cutting-edge podcasts.

At the age of 12. I decided it would become my life’s mission to build better places for people to live.
— Dr. Nadina Galle

On her quest to build better places for people to live, she studied ecology, evolutionary biology, earth sciences, and eventually went on to earn a PhD in Ecological Engineering. In her fascinating TEDx Talk, she defines Ecological Engineering as the “design of sustainable ecosystems that integrate human society with its natural environment for the benefit of both.”

Remember that inquisitive, yet terrified little 12-year-old girl’s promise to herself?

Well, her lifelong pursuit of learning eventually led her to her PhD in Ecological Engineering at MIT and University College Dublin and what has emerged is what she calls “Internet of Nature.”

How gardeners can help protect the urban forest?

What does all this mean to the average woodland/wildlife gardener, or simply the urban homeowner living with a typical yard?

It means that although we gardeners may think of our gardens as ours alone to enjoy and experience, they are actually part of a much larger environment that makes up the urban forest – a forest that in most urban areas around the globe is under severe threat from natural (climate change) and human intervention.

Irish garden designer and author Mary Reynolds promotes this approach to natural gardening in her book The Garden Awakening where she advocates for homeowners to consider their properties like “natural arks” that form smaller islands of nature that can join together to provide much larger islands of native plants, trees and natural environments. (You can explore her approach further in my article about her work here).

This approach to urban gardening also means that traditional thinking probably has to change to ensure that our urban forests provide us with the natural environment so many of us depend on for our future well being. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it has made us more aware of the importance of green spaces and the natural environment to our own well being.

Protecting the urban forest has never been more important

The very fact trees sequester carbon is reason enough to plant as many new trees as possible. However, it’s been proven that older, existing trees (and their soils!) are even more effective at sequestering carbon, so ensuring their protection and continued health in our urban areas is vitally important.

Every year the urban forest is under greater threat, Dr. Galle explains in her TEDx Talk. This is hammered home by the fact that every week approximately 3 million people move (or are forced to move) to cities around the globe.

“Everyone is talking about how many people are moving to cities, but no one is talking about what kind of life they will live once they move there,” she explains.

How we protect the urban forest in the future is what Dr. Galle wants to change, and she wants technology to be leading the way. (More on that later in the article. First it’s important to understand our role as gardeners and homeowners in the whole process.)

“Roughly 50-70 per cent of the urban forest in any given city is on private/homeowner land, which means only 30-50 per cent is actually in the maintenance area of the city,” Dr. Galle explains via email to Ferns & Feathers from her home in the Netherlands.

“This is crucial because it shows the massive role homeowners can have in the development and longevity of the urban forest.”

An important point author Peter Wohlleben makes in his NYT best selling book The Hidden Life of Trees, (link to an earlier article on the book) and one that Dr. Galle echoes in her writings and talks, is that a tree planted in the heart of an urban landscape has a typical lifespan of a mere 7-30 years. The same tree planted in a natural forest can easily live to 100 years and considerably more given the right conditions.

Dr. Galle has even identified Wohlleben and the UBC forest ecologist, Dr. Suzanne Simard, whom he covers extensively in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, as a major influence in her work, particularly research on how trees communicate through underground fungi that can connect to the roots of other trees (and plants) to create what’s called a mycorrhizal network. A mycorrhizal network can influence the survival, growth, health, and behavior of the trees linked within its extensive network or community. Trees use their network to not only communicate, but to share resources, often stemming from the resources of the “Mother Tree”, the most connected tree in the network.

This underground network, Dr. Galle emphasizes, needs to not only be protected through proper watering, fertilization and care, but encouraged to branch out in urban environments whenever possible. Success will depend on a multitude of factors including the cooperation of individual homeowners to protect the trees on their properties.

How valuable is a single tree on your property?

In fact, in his follow-up book The Heartbeat of Trees, Wohlleben gives an example of how a study conducted by Chicago University researchers found that a single tree planted on the lawn of an urban property can increase the benefits to the homeowner by the equivalent of an annual pay increase of $10,000. The study, conducted with thousands of Toronto, Canada residents, also showed that two trees planted in the front could provide the health and well-being benefits equal to an annual income increase of $20,000.

If this doesn’t convince homeowners of the importance of maintaining their own trees in their front yards, it’s hard to imagine what will.

“Most homeowners don’t realize the trees on their land (may be) protected by a private tree ordinance, meaning you can only cut down trees (even when you own the land!) with a permit,” Dr. Galle explains. “Otherwise, you can be fined, or even jailed (though I doubt that’s ever happened).”

“Many cities, like Santa Monica, for example,currently don’t have private tree ordinances, but after remote sensing analysis revealed they’d lost 20-30 per cent canopy cover on private residences in just a few short years, they’re rapidly trying to instate a private tree ordinance. Otherwise, there will be no urban forest left!" says Dr. Galle. (Readers can learn more about Santa Monica’s urban forester and his struggles to maintain its urban forest in a S2E10 of the Internet of Nature Podcast here.)

How can homeowners preserve and protect their trees?

Dr. Galle recommends four ways homeowners can preserve their trees and do their part to ensure the longevity of the urban forest.

• Understand your trees: use a tree identification app to understand what grows around you and learn as much as you can about them and their history.

• Don’t cut down your trees unless absolutely necessary. If you must cut a tree down, replant smartly, meaning planting native trees that will thrive in that location.

• Water your trees when it’s hot and dry, and use a sensor to help you understand when and how much water you have provided the tree so you don’t over water, which can also be dangerous to the tree.

• Find and invest in a good local arborist for regular tree health inspections. Regular inspections of your trees will help to keep you, your property, and the tree safe.

How technology can help protect the urban forest

Protecting individual trees is certainly a step in the right direction, but Dr. Galle is more focused on protecting the entire urban forest.

It’s obviously a momentous task that, up until recently, was often the primary responsibility of city planners, work crews and arborists working tirelessly to provide what they thought the trees, plants and wildlife needed to prosper.

What Dr. Galle and her co-researchers found after talking to these critical workers at the frontlines of urban forest protection is that they really did not know what was needed to protect the urban forest in its entirety. Their expertise certainly guided them in the right direction, but specific day-to-day, week-to-week, season-to-season evidence was sorely missing.

The result: Protecting the urban forest was, at least to some extent, a guessing game and climate change is making guessing that much more difficult.

So, Dr. Galle began to ask: “What if technology could step in where Earth’s biological communications networks have been altered and disrupted?”

And so, the Internet of Nature (IoN) was born.

What is the Internet of Nature?

Working with scientists, researchers and companies around the world – including Canada, the U.S., Australia, China, and across Europe – Dr. Galle is developing a multifaceted approach to monitoring the health of our urban forests through technology: more specifically the internet.

“After seeing both the ‘Smart City’ and ‘Green City’ agendas gain popularity, irrespective of one another, I began to explore ways to integrate these precision methods to build greener and smarter cities, she explains in an interview with the Amsterdam International Water Web,.

Dr. Galle explains that “The Internet of Nature (IoN) makes use of emerging technologies, like sensors, satellite imagery, computer algorithms, and many more, to represent urban ecosystems and turn green spaces into data that helps us better understand how to manage them.”

She goes on to explain that: “It doesn’t only collect data to help monitor these important spaces, but also reconnect city dwellers to nature — and better understand how people feel about it.”

“In my research and work, I have experimented with sensors, satellite and drone images, online reviews, big data, plant ID apps, and many more, to find the best ways to measure and monitor urban nature. From that, the Internet of Nature arose, helping us monitor nature, but also reconnect people to the greenery at their doorstep.”

As part of her lifelong ambition to provide healthier and better places for people to live, Dr. Galle explains that IoN technologies have experimented with sentiment analysis to mine citizen opinion of green space by training a computer to ‘decipher’ online reviews, interaction and engagement rates. “This way we learn more about how people experience green spaces.”

Sentiment analysis algorithms would, for example, enable cities to help establish how people feel about certain urban green spaces including parks compared to more natural areas based on reviews left on sites like TripAdvisor, or on-line questionnaires.

Information gathered from underground sensors is sent to an ipad where moisture and other factors can be monitored to help protect the trees in the area. Photo courtesy of Soilmania.

How sensors play a role in protecting trees?

By using electronic IoT sensors designed and built in the Netherlands by SoilMania, scientists and arborists are able to monitor tree’s needs, stresses and environment at any time through a computer and even apps on a phone. This information can then be extrapolated to all the trees in a given area and solutions provided to protect them.

SoilMania, founded only four years ago, is already being used on crops, fields and greenhouses; on golf courses and sports fields; as well as in public and green areas including entire cities to monitor the needs of the urban forest.

It may be nothing more than providing information telling arborists when a tree needs deep watering. The in-ground sensor will also tell workers exactly how much water and or fertilizer the trees need and provide information about how much water has reached the trees’ roots.

Sensors are even able to monitor, for example, the salt in the soil around a tree’s roots that can build up as cities continue to spread salt on roads during winter months. If salt levels build to dangerous levels, the company even provides a solution to bind with the salt or other toxic elements to neutralize them before it can damage the tree. The method has already prevented hundreds of untimely tree deaths related to salt damage.

During her time at MIT’s Senseable City Lab, she was interested in seeing if there was microbial activity in the soil around inner-city “street trees” using sensors to detect the activity and therefore the health of the tree.

This research also led to the possibility of using remote sensing technology through satellite imagery. “I’m particularly interested in hyperspectral imagery” that can pick up on vegetation and the health of vegetation in minute detail from satellites that are able to orbit the earth twice in a single day. Although such imagery is already being used in agriculture and forestry, significantly improved resolution now enables scientists and arborists to actually “measure the health of individual trees.

Information is gathered by the tree sensors and sent via cloud computing to computers to monitor soil around a tree or group of trees roots. Provided courtesy of Soilmania

In conclusion

Dr. Galle’s childhood dream of creating a better place for people to live continues to be a work in progress. Her commitment and dedication to achieving this goal has led her down a path of knowledge and academic excellence that is sure to end in success – exactly what that success entails is still yet to be written.

However, there are many barriers standing in the way – not the least the acceptance needed of how technology can solve the problems large cities face when it comes to protecting urban forests.

Added to that is the continued damage inflicted on our urban forests by nature, climate change, and most importantly, homeowners who either don’t know, or worse, don’t respect the important part trees play in our lives.

The challenges are too many for any one person to tackle, but, with the power of the internet, maybe, just maybe Dr. Galle and her team can find those solutions.

Let’s hope so. Our lives may depend on it.

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Garden heros Vic MacBournie Garden heros Vic MacBournie

Making a difference: Shannon turns monoculture farm into a pollinators’ paradise

Shannon McNally is just one of the many women making a difference in the preservation of nature. Shannon and partner, Justin, were recognized for their work in restoring a once monoculture farm into a pollinator’s paradise. Shannon’s work with monarch butterflies also shows her commitment to the natural world.

NAPPC recognize her tireless work

It’s easy to excuse Shannon McNally for being nervous when she accepted her award from NAPPC as Canada’s best Farmer-Rancher.

Afterall, accepting an award from experts in the field of pollination – professors, scientists and other highly educated seasoned professionals – is one thing, but when it’s the first award you can remember receiving since a 4th Grade fairness award, it’s a big deal.

Especially when you’re only in your 20s, have no formal education in the field and very little experience in farming.

As you can imagine, receiving a national award from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) and the Pollinator Partnership, is a VERY BIG deal.

Shannon and her partner, Justin, received the award for converting more than 33 hectares at White Church Farm of a monoculture soy and corn farm in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, into a pollinators’ paradise.

“It’s been five years ago now when I made the decision to join all of you who have been fighting for a greener future,” she said in her acceptance speech for the award.

“In 2017, Justin and I both quit our jobs to become first-generation farmers. At the time I was 23 years old with little experience or related formal education. My strengths relied entirely on my relentless passion for creating more space for nature and using the internet,” she explained.

“Caring was truly my biggest asset. I wanted to highlight that because I know that each and every one of you have that same strength too,” she said in a zoom call to an audience of co-award winners, organizers, professors and experts in the field.

Her passion for the environment and her dedication to making a difference in a natural world where climate change is threatening everything she cares so much for led her to take on the challenge.

Shannon McNally in one of the fields she works in Hamilton, Ontario Canada. Photo courtesy Shannon McNally.

“If I had waited until I felt confident enough, experienced enough or educated enough to start trying to make a difference, I would never have started. As a rookie in this community, I was constantly inspired by all of you and truly humbled to be in your company and to connect with you today,” Shannon said in her speech.

Since taking on the challenge, Shannon has been working hard to reshape the land with a plan for long-term biodiversity.

Bringing back nature

Each year, she works to restore large areas by planting permanent, native plant species including up to 30 trees and hundreds of perennial wildflowers. And that was just last year.

In addition, she has also planted more than 5 acres in permanent, mixed bee forage, created clover pathways around the farm, cultivated diverse, mature tree lines and hedgerows, and recently established a 2-acre permaculture orchard.

Each year, the farm grows a succession of sunflower fields for bee forage and bird seed and they plant a cover crop for pollinators.

“In this era of climate crisis, she explained in her acceptance speech, “we need everyone’s strength and contribution. Each of us has such an important role to play and we no longer have the luxury of time to get in our own way.

Her call to action did not go unnoticed by her peers at the NAPPC awards ceremony.

“NAPPC is thrilled to recognize Shannon McNally with the 2021 Canadian Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award,” says Dr. Lora Morandin, Research and Conservation Director at Pollinator Partnership.

“Shannon’s work to provide habitat for pollinators and support biodiversity on her farm is an excellent example of how growers can incorporate conservation within their production systems. Creating pollinator habitat also supports beneficial insects that control pest insects, which can reduce the need for chemical pest control. We hope that the work Shannon and other farmers are doing to help pollinators provides inspiration to others to find ways to support pollinators and other wildlife or their farm or in their yard.”

The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign is a coalition group administered by Pollinator Partnership. NAPPC's mission is to encourage the health of resident and migratory pollinating animals in North America.

P2’s mission is to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research. The Canadian arm of Pollinator Partnership (P2C) is a registered not-for-profit organization.

The organization is quick to point out that pollinators perform a nearly invisible ecosystem service that is a precious resource requiring attention and support. It adds that disturbing evidence found around the globe, shows that pollinators and the service they provide is increasingly in jeopardy.

Shannon is more than aware of the ever emerging deadline she and others face to not only slow the trend but to work hard to reverse the trend as quickly as possible.

Not unlike woodland gardeners toiling away to rewild their small urban or rural plot of land using native plants, trees and shrubs, Shannon also realizes that the work she is doing on the small farm is just one step in the solution.

Her work with Monarch butterflies this past year is an example of her commitment to helping wildlife and was one reason she was recognized by NAPPC.

Helping monarch butterflies through social media

“I really enjoy participating in conservation efforts, but often feel overwhelmed by wanting to help ALL of the at-risk and endangered species,” Shannon wrote to her Facebook followers earlier this year.

“I do as much as I can here, but I feel the biggest impact I have is through sharing on social media. The possibility of someone being inspired into action and the potential ripple effect that could have is what gets me the most excited,” Shannon explains.

“With so many disheartening headlines these days, finding joy in nature and cherishing the positive outcomes from even the smallest of actions is worth celebrating. My hope with sharing this is that you can feel the same joy I do when I watch these monarchs fly away after 5 1/2 weeks of attentive care.”

In the coming year, Shannon plans to restore a riparian area with native trees and shrubs as well as install a monarch-focused garden featuring three milkweed species.

The work she is planning on a monarch-focused garden follows her success this past year of raising 100s of monarchs from eggs and sharing her work with others through social media.

Plans are still in the works for next year but Shannon says her focus will be on creating habitat for other native species rather than any rearing and releasing monarchs.

“It was a wonderful, educational and inspiring experience this year and I'm excited to see what next year has in store.”

More NAPPC award winners

Some of the other 2021 Pollinator Award Winners included:



This Charleston, SC based non-profit organization works to engage students of all ages within their own environments through observation-based learning. Ted Dennard, a lifelong beekeeper and the founder of Savannah Bee Company, and Tami Enright, a fellow beekeeper and environmental educator, have dedicated their lives to protecting pollinators, founding The Bee Cause Project and securing a national partnership with the Whole Kids Foundation. The organization solicits honey bee grant and observation hive program receives hundreds of schools’ participation applications annually, and more than 550 schools and organizations have received bee grants to date, impacting thousands of children across North America. They have also introduced digital hives as an alternative for schools or community centers that cannot host a live beehive, and have just launched a Pollinator Garden Grant for Libraries.



Dan and Michael O’Loughlin operate a 200-acre farm in Yamhill County, OR that primarily grows tall fescue seed. There are few pollinator initiatives in Oregon that the O’Loughlins have not supported or helped, including having surveyed bees at over 1,500 locations for the Oregon Bee Atlas, having worked with the county to establish trials assessing roadside pollinator seed mixes, having created pollinator habitat at schools through the State School Garden Network, and having served as leaders in the State Pollinator Protection Initiative, the Oregon Bee Project. O’Loughlin Farm has also made major strides to increase insect biodiversity. The farm rarely uses insecticides owing to the high endemic populations of beneficial insects and vertebrates, and insectary plantings are key to this strategy. Many of the plants they use are important nectar and pollen sources and butterfly host plants.



Pollination Guelph, founded in 2008, is an entirely volunteer-run charitable organization that focuses on protecting pollinator habitats by building and maintaining public and private gardens throughout Guelph, ON. Several notable projects include Eastview Pollinator Park, The Gosling Pollinator Gardens at Hospice Wellington, Trans Canada Trail Pollinator Gardens, and Clair Road Emergency Services Centre Pollinator Habitat Meadow. In addition to on-the-ground work, Pollination Guelph reaches out to its diverse audience with numerous education initiatives and advocacy campaigns through their website in the form of videos, web links, downloads, factsheets, and newsletters on a wide range of topics. The organization also hosts an annual symposium featuring workshops and networking opportunities that is attended by people from all over Canada. In addition, their Community Grant program enables other nonprofit groups in Guelph to establish and maintain pollinator habitat. In 2021, this program provided a total of $10,000 to 16 local organizations.



Especies, Sociedad y Habitat, A.C. (ESHAC) is a nonprofit organization that uses a human community-centered approach to implement projects that promote the conservation of natural resources and endangered species while promoting sustainable use of biodiversity. ESHAC has implemented more than 30 projects in northeast Mexico, impacting more than 30,000 hectares of priority area for conservation in the region. Over the last five years, ESHAC has been collaborating closely with Don Martin-CONANP to promote the conservation of the Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis), with special emphasis on protecting cave roosts and enhancing foraging habitat along their migratory corridor. To date, they have planted over 9,500 agaves near critical roosts and restored over 250 hectares of habitat. They have also worked with local communities to develop holistic management approaches, train 79 individuals form 5 communities in sustainable and regenerative agriculture and grazing techniques, and pioneer a drone-based survey protocol to evaluate foraging resources for pollinating bats at the landscape level.



Emilio Vieyra owns and operates Mezcal Don Mateo de la Sierra to produce one of the few environmentally friendly, sustainable mezcals. He ensures that the areas where they grow agaves remain forested and was one of the first to receive recognition of Bat Friendly© practices, keeping the recognition each year since 2016. In keeping with this recognition, Emilio allows at least 5% of his agaves to flower for bats and other pollinators. The majority of bats visiting their plants are the endangered Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis), showing the impact of their practices at the local level. Regionally, Emilio is educating his peers and extending his practices to other mezcal producers. He also hosts practical seminars covering all his production processes for bartenders and others during the flowering season, creating many other promoters of Bat Friendly© practices in the process.



Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s (TRCA) The Meadoway is an active urban restoration project in Toronto, ON that encompasses 200 hectares and 16 linear kilometers of the Gatineau Hydro Corridor between the Don River Ravine and the Rouge National Urban Park. The goals of the revitalization are to create and maintain a diverse, native meadow habitat for local wildlife and to create and active East-West link between Toronto and the Rouge National Urban Park. Full project completion is expected by the end of 2024, but by the end of 2021, 64 hectares will have been restored, completing 70% of the project. The Meadoway will connect seven rivers and ravine systems, 15 parks, 16 km of trail, 13 neighborhoods, over 200 hectares of greenspace, and more than 1,000 diverse species of flora and fauna. Corporate and community groups have also been engaged as participants in stewardship activities including the planting of native potted stock, garbage collection, invasive species removal, and interpretive walks.

More on Pollinator Partnership

Pollinator Partnership’s mission is to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research.

The Pollinator Partnership is working to protect pollinators and their habitat with projects all over the North America and globally. See what local and regional initiatives are active near you.

Pollinator Partnership Canada (P2C) is a registered not-for-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems through conservation, education, and research.

Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.

Pollinating animals travel from plant to plant carrying pollen on their bodies in a vital interaction that allows the transfer of genetic material critical to the reproductive system of most flowering plants – the very plants that

  • bring us countless fruits, vegetables, and nuts,

  • ½ of the world’s oils, fibers and raw materials;

  • prevent soil erosion,

  • and increase carbon sequestration

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wildlife Vic MacBournie wildlife Vic MacBournie

Living with and attracting friendly little red squirrels

The American Red squirrel is a year-round resident in our woodland garden. An entertaining little tree squirrel that prefers coniferous forests, especially pine trees which are both a source of food and habitat. American red squirrels, unlike their Eurasian red squirrel are territorial and hold their own against the American grey squirrels and fox squirrels.

Red squirrels, oak trees and acorns in our woodland garden

One look at the little red squirrel and I couldn’t help falling in love.

She could not have been very old and yet was brave enough to hang out under the feeder with the big boys: Big bruising American grey squirrels (some jet black and three times larger than her), mature red squirrels, and a host of very aggressive little chipmunks.

But she held her own, keeping a safe distance from the others while she scrounged what sunflower seeds and other tidbits she could find under the bird feeders.

I’m sure mom wasn’t far away keeping an eye out for her babies. During March and April, females have litters of between three to seven babies.

If you are looking to attract the American Red Squirrel to your woodland garden, be sure to include their favourite food sources, Oaks for their prized acorns, pine trees for their seeds, native berries and flowers for their seeds (Black Eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers are good choices). These tree squirrel also appreciate a good sized woodpile where they can hide their stash for the winter.

Technically, this little red squirrel was actually what we call an American Red Squirrel, not to be mistaken by the even cuter and much more timid Eurasian Red Squirrel.

A digital painting of one our our adorable red squirrels.

A digital digital painting of one of our cute little red squirrels.

The British counterpart (Eurasian Red Squirrel), complete with its adorable tufted ears, is actually becoming a threatened species in most parts of Europe because of its more timid, non-territorial stand against the introduced American Grey squirrel, which are all too familiar in backyards across the United States and Canada. The Grey squirrels were introduced to Great Britain in the 1800s resulting in the slow decline of the red squirrels. It is estimated that at one time red squirrels numbered in the 3 million. That number is now at about 120,000.

Dani Conner’s baby red squirrels video

For more on the Eurasion Red squirrel, be sure to check out Dani Connor and her entertaining You Tube channel about the Eurasian Red Squirrel. Dani is a talented wildlife photographer and Zoologist originally from London, UK who is now living in Sweden.
Recently she became mom to four orphaned baby red squirrels and has spent a lot of time with them gaining their trust. The kits allowed her to photograph them and record the sound they make when they eat, which went viral on Twitter gaining 14.8 million views.

Her YouTube videos are well worth watching and she has a Patreon site you may want to investigate.

American Red Squirrel at reflection pond.

American Red Squirrel at reflection pond.

If you are lucky enough to have American red squirrels in your backyard, you’ll know why the grey squirrels won’t be forcing them out any time soon. When it comes to who gets fed first around our feeders, the red squirrels make it clear up front that they’re not about to back down to the much larger greys.

Besides their willingness to communicate (the American red squirrel can often be heard communicating with a lengthy, descending trill and a persistent chatter of assorted notes and chucks), they are not afraid to show their annoyance with competitors around a food source.

In our yard their vocalizations are also one of the early warning signs that an intruder is about – especially one of the neighbourhood foxes. The Red Squirrels carry on for quite some time warning others of the dangers – including a hawk or own if they see it first.

I’ve seen one red squirrel chase a much larger grey squirrel from one end of the yard to the other when the grey squirrel intruded on its dinner party. I think it’s as much a game as it is a show of strength because they all more or less get along under the feeder. The real aggression is more likely between two reds than a red and a grey.

It can be great fun watching these little guys from inside the photographic blind. I’m sure they know I’m there, but they eventually become oblivious to me and the blind. In fact, I’ve had them jump on the blind while I’m inside mistaking the camouflage for a real tree or bush.

How can you not fall in love with this little fella?

An immature American Red Squirrel looking for scraps of food under the bird feeder, always on the watch for predators and other feisty fellow. How can you not fall in love with this little fella?

On another occasion one Red squirrel chased another right through the blind when I was sitting in it. In one side and out the other before I even knew I had a couple of visitors.

Red squirrels can be feisty and territorial toward intruders, especially when food is involved. A showdown between two red squirrels is sure to involve plenty of tail flicking, chattering and even foot stomping. Trust me, it may look like they are having fun, but the argument can get pretty heated at times.

That tail of theirs can measure about half the size of the squirrel and when they are not using it to assert their dominance, its primarily used for balance as the squirrel moves from tree to tree in the woodland garden.

A lovely little Red Squirrel poses on a branch as it enjoys a snack.

A lovely little Red Squirrel poses on a branch as it enjoys a snack.

Are red squirrels friendly?

I’ll never forget the time I was feeding one of our red squirrels peanuts and photographing her in our front garden, when she got around behind me and jumped up on my shoulder. Now that was an experience I’ll not forget.

She didn’t stay long and after a quick sniff she jumped down onto a rock to continue scoring peanuts from me.

Although they are territorial around other red squirrels, these little fellas are quite friendly and can be trained to take peanuts right out of your hand.

Unlike our chipmunks, I tend to just toss them their treats rather than have them take the peanuts directly from my hand. (See my article on how to hand feed chipmunks.)

Are American Red Squirrels a threatened species

The American Red squirrels’ aggressive/territorial approach to guarding food helps keep our red squirrel numbers healthy and might account for our baby red squirrel holding her own in the face of a host of other, much larger squirrels around her.

Although red squirrels can be rare in some areas, including urban areas, their numbers are not under threat in North America. Unlike the Eurasian reds, whose numbers have fallen dramatically and efforts are having to be made to protect the remaining populations.

You may also have Fox squirrels living or visiting your bird feeders. It is typically found in the eastern United States and Canada. Not unlike the smaller American Red Squirrel, the Fox squirrels have a lot of red in their coats, but they are actually much larger. In fact, they are the largest tree squirrel in North America weighing up to two pounds compared to the much smaller Red Squirrels that weigh in at an average half pound.

American Red Squirrels do not hibernate. Instead they store large caches of food in what is called a midden.

American Red Squirrels do not hibernate. Instead they store large caches of food in what is called a midden.

According to the extremely informative website Squirrels At the Feeder, the main difference between the American and Eurasia Red Squirrels can be seen in how they store food for the winter. Both of these species stash away food for winter months as neither species hibernates. The Eurasian Red Squirrel scatters the food caches in multiple locations throughout the forest. The American Red Squirrel creates a massive central stash called a midden which it defends with its life.”

What do the American Red Squirrels eat

Since our red squirrels don’t hibernate during the winter, they are extremely busy in the fall collecting food for the upcoming cold months.

Red squirrels, by definition are omnivores, and their diet may surprise readers. Their primary diet consists mainly of the seeds and cones of evergreen trees as well as nuts and, especially acorns. Their diets, however, actually extend to include native flowers, a variety of berries, mushrooms, bugs, eggs, small birds and even mice. Yes, red squirrels can help you control the mice population around your home.

Where do Red squirrels store their food?

Our red squirrels use tree cavities, brush piles and dens as their own food pantries where they can keep them safe from other foragers. (For my earlier article on building a brush pile go here.)

Around my home, they are regular visitors to the area under the bird feeders where they gather sunflower seeds and other droppings from the feeders. Unsalted peanuts (either shelled or unshelled) are a favourite treat that I like to offer them.

Where do they live?

The American Red Squirrel prefers coniferous forests and are particularly fond of pine forests but they will also inhabit deciduous woodland and are found in woodlands in suburban and near-urban areas throughout their range.

Their range is considered wide, stretching throughout the United States from the Alaskan forests through the Rocky Mountains in Canada to about Georgia.

Can Red Squirrels be problematic?

Like any rodent, red squirrels can become an annoyance if they get into the attic or other area where they do not belong. Their winter caches of food are a dead giveaway that they have moved in.

It’s always wise to use wildlife-friendly professionals to safely remove any rodents that find their way into your home.

Be sure to seal off any areas around the home to ensure there are no areas of easy access to your attic and you can enjoy these friendly little squirrels in the natural areas of your yard where they belong.

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wildlife Vic MacBournie wildlife Vic MacBournie

Do NOT cut down that dead or dying tree

If you are lucky enough to have a dead or dying tree in your yard, do everything you can to protect it. The birds, animals, insects and fungus will thank you for it. Beautiful trees might be wonderful in our gardens, but dead and dying trees are more important to many birds and animal life.

Create your own “wildlife tree” in the backyard

A tree growing beautifully in your woodland is wonderful, but to birds, bugs and other backyard critters a dead or dying tree is even better.

If you have a dead or dying tree in your yard (often referred to as a “snag”) consider doing everything possible NOT to cut it down. These trees are just too important to the local wildlife to cut down for no reason than it has succumbed to the ravages of time or disease. The dead tree will quickly become a magnet for important birds, insects, and microbial fungi that might not already be present in your woodland garden.

Woodpeckers, warblers and other insect eating birds will find the dead tree irresistible and over time use it as a resource for food and possibly a home to raise their young. Depending on where you live, small mammals like raccoons, skunks, martens and even porcupines might decide to take up residence in your “wildlife tree.”

Pileated woodpecker working an old dying tree

This Pileated Woodpecker was photographed working on a dying tree in a back corner of the yard.


The snags can even become more important in winter where birds that depend on insects for survival look to the snag as a source for insect, larvae and other potential food sources. During winter, birds, bats and other small animals will often roost behind the loose bark and large cracks in the wood for both warmth and shelter.

Studies show that in areas of the United States West of the Cascade Mts, 39 species of birds and 14 species of mammals depend on tree cavities for survival. Similar numbers (39 bird species and 23 mammal species) East of the Cascade Mountains depend on snags. (USDA Forest Service)

The wildlife tree is the perfect “snag” with vines beginning to climb up the trunk and natural nesting cavities.

The wildlife tree is the perfect “snag” with vines beginning to climb up the trunk and natural nesting cavities.

Of course, if the dead or dying tree poses a significant danger to either individuals or your home, steps should be taken to ensure the situation is made safe. This does not, however, automatically mean that the tree needs to be cut down.

There are options to save many of these trees that we will discuss later in this article.

Unfortunately, most snag or “wildlife trees” are too quickly cut down by homeowners, city parks and even within urban forested areas for fear of injury.

These trees are too often cut down without much thought, if any, to their wildlife value or of the potential options that could save all or most of the trees to live on as an important wildlife tree.

Many of our backyard animals depend on snags for both nesting and living accommodations as well as foraging for food.

Many of our backyard animals depend on snags for both nesting and living accommodations as well as foraging for food.

Why preserve a dead or dying tree?

The dead trees, especially larger ones, provide optimal habitat for woodpeckers and other primary cavity nesters. In fact, large snags from mature trees are critical for big birds such as Pileated woodpeckers that require more available internal space for raising their young.

Woodpeckers such as the Pileated or Northern flicker actually create several new cavities in dead and dying trees per year. Many of the cavities are started by the woodpeckers for possible use in future years, but in the meantime, are often used by smaller bird species.

The woodpeckers will often start the cavities in areas of the tree that is weakened and then leave to allow nature to finish a lot of the hard work.

Fungus eventually invades the cavity and softens the wood over time. The following year, the birds may return to continue hollowing out the cavity’s internal wood, which has now become softer and easier to excavate.


Wildlife tree

Can’t you just imagine a large eagle sitting atop this old snag scouting the area for its next dinner? It’s more likely home to an owl along with a host of smaller birds, bugs and other critters.

Woodpeckers, in turn, create habitat for more than 80 other species of secondary cavity nesters, including American kestrels, a host of owls from the diminutive Screech owl to Barn owls, Barred owls and even Great Horned owls, swallows including the tree swallow and purple martins, bluebirds and a host of wrens, chickadees and nuthatches.

screech owl box.jpg

Owl box on pine snag

A screech owl box on this dying fully mature pine tree provides and opportunity to attract the diminutive little predator even if you do not have a large enough dead tree in your yard.

What do all these birds have in common?

They are primarily carnivorous or insect-eating birds that will help to naturally control mice, rats and insects in your garden. Without them, your garden can easily get out of ecological balance. In fact, many urban gardens, where dead or dying trees no longer exist, are overrun with mice and rats and skunks in part because of a lack of nesting cavities in the area for higher predators. Great Horned Owls, for example prey on skunks.

If your area has few if any natural snags, it may be the perfect time to look into installing screech owl boxes that provide nesting opportunities for these small, but highly efficient mice and rat controllers. If attracting screech owls sounds interesting, check out my full article on installing screech owl boxes in your garden, go here.

Even small snags are vital to wildlife

This American Bittern was attracted to this fallen snag in a pond. A dead or dying tree, whether it is standing or fallen over, can attract an amazing variety of birds, animals and insects.

This American Bittern was attracted to this fallen snag in a pond. A dead or dying tree, whether it is standing or fallen over, can attract an amazing variety of birds, animals and insects.

Smaller snags, particularly if the wood is beginning to break down and becoming soft, provide the opportunity for smaller birds such as chickadees to make tiny cavities in dead wood as small as 4-inches in diameter.

So, even if a smaller tree dies in a corner of your garden think twice before removing it. This is the perfect opportunity to grow a vine up the snag or plant a native berry producing shrub in front of it not only to hide it from view but to provide an abundance of natural food to inhabitants of the snag.

Snags as nesting sites and foraging habitat

This small DIY snag is the result of burying a branch into the ground and allowing the woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees to go to town on it. Eventually it will rot and I’ll replace it with another.

This small DIY snag is the result of burying a branch into the ground and allowing the woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees to go to town on it. Eventually it will rot and I’ll replace it with another.

Although many gardeners will recognize the benefit of the snag providing nesting habitat for a variety of birds and mammals, don’t overlook the foraging opportunities these same snags provide.

The dead and dying trees’ wood softens as fungus begins to take over the once dense woody interior of the tree. This soft wood, which can also exist on dead branches on live trees, provides habitat for a host of insects and other potential prey items for birds.

You might be surprised just how many invertebrates depend on dead and dying trees.

A close inspection would likely include a host of beetles, spiders, various ants, millipedes, earwigs, earthworms as well as possibly salamanders and toads on the ground beneath the tree living under the decaying bark and branches that often fall from the tree.

This snag continues to show life in another part of the tree, providing needed cover for birds and animals that are using it for habitat.

Some of the best trees for snags

• Large trees provide the most habitat resources for birds both small and large

• Conifers such as cedar, fir larch, and pine make excellent snags because they rot slowly and can remain standing longer.

• Snags of more than 12 inches in diameter and about 15 feet tall are perfect hunting perches for larger raptors.

A red squirrel enjoys the bounty provided by the woodpile that can help to take the place of a snag. If you are limbing a dead tree, consider using the branches to create a wood pile. Eventually the rotting branches will create a similar benefit to wildlife that the standing dead snag would provide.

Brush Piles

A red squirrel enjoys the bounty provided by the woodpile that can help to take the place of a snag. If you are limbing a dead tree, consider using the branches to create a wood pile. Eventually the rotting branches will create a similar benefit to wildlife that the standing dead snag would provide.

Create your own DIY snags

If your property has no dead or dying trees, you could create your own either by killing an undesirable tree in your yard, or better still by burying a large branch in an appropriate area of your yard.

Maybe a neighbour is cutting down a large tree and the tree service has no problem dropping off a large branch to your home. By simply digging a hole and burying it in the ground, you could create many of the benefits a traditional snag would bring to the yard.

I doubt you would get a pileated woodpecker making it’s home there, but you will attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and other insect-eating birds to the yard.

If the branch is big enough, you may be able to get nuthatches or other small birds using it to raise their young.

You might want to drill some large holes in the branch to get the process started.

Snags in our yard

In our bckyard, we have a large natural snag in a corner of the yard that most visitors would be hard pressed to see unless they walked back to the more wilder area of the yard. Judging by the holes bored into it, I’m sure it is and has been home to several smaller birds.

Last year, a Pileated woodpecker was working the snag foraging for insects. I heard it before I saw it. In fact, I had to walk to the back of the yard to see the massive woodpecker at the snag.

In another area of the garden near the bird feeder, I have buried a mid-sized branch in the ground for birds to use both as a perch as well as a snag.

By drilling holes in the branch and filling them with suet and WBU bark butter, the DIY snag is regularly visited by a host of woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees as well as the perfect high perch for red squirrels watching for the neighbourhood fox.

If you want to take DIY snag creation to a higher level, consider wrapping a rope tightly around a large branch to cut off its nutrients from the main trunk. In time the branch will die off creating a form of snag on the tree. (I would not recommend this procedure on your favourite tree).

Smaller DIY snags can be easily made from large branches that can be drilled out, filled with suet or Bark Butter, and hung from a nearby tree. For my story on building your own hanging DIY suet feeder, check out my story here.

We have created a large DIY snag branch on a very mature crab apple tree at the back of the property. For the most part, the dead branch is hidden by the still living branches, but still provides many of the benefits attracting insects that are eventually food for the backyard birds.

In our yard, we have also created a large wood pile that can take the place of a snag by providing small animals with a relatively safe habitat as well as a good foraging location for birds. For more on building a brush or wood pile, check out my full story here.

By wrapping a rope around a branch of one of our crab apple trees we are able to create a snag in a living tree. By doing this, you can create a snag where ever you choose.

By wrapping a rope around a branch of one of our crab apple trees we are able to create a snag in a living tree. By doing this, you can create a snag where ever you choose.

Managing snags in your landscape

There is no question that a large dead or dying tree can pose a risk to life and property if not dealt with properly.

If a snag threatens the safety of a patio or play area for example, consider moving them to a safer area if possible. If that is not possible, reducing the potential damage that could be caused by the snag falling over is certainly a consideration. By removing the larger branches and using them in a woodpile for example, you keep the benefits of the dead wood without the dangers.

If the snag is a large, mature tree and poses too much danger to leave it as it is, have a tree company remove the dangerous branches and cut the tree down in size so that if it did fall, it would not hit anything and, its reduced size would pose little danger.

How long can a dead tree remain standing?

It’s also important to remember that a dead tree can stand for many years before it topples to the earth. In fact, depending on the size and type of tree, it’s likely that the dead tree will still be standing long after we are gone.

Finally, if you are concerned about a tree on your property that might be dying or has already passed, contact a local tree specialist for their expertise.

Just remember that a lot of these “tree experts” are not only in the business of making their livelihood from removing trees, they also do not want to be responsible for any chance of injuries or property damage resulting from a falling tree that they did not remove.

Common sense is always the best approach, but keep in mind there are alternatives to complete removal and they are almost always a lot less expensive.

While I get great enjoyment from my bird feeding stations, providing natural food sources to our feathered friends is always the goal we should aspire to in our gardens. I have written a comprehensive post on feeding birds naturally. You can read about it here.

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