Enjoying nature’s grand displays

Any time that Lillian Cucuzza and her husband, Dave, want to take in a nature show, they just look out their back window, step out into their backyard or walk around the cul-de-sac to a pond near their yard.

Lillian and Dave Cucuzza, of Land O’ Lakes, enjoy daily nature shows in their backyard.(B.C. Manion)

The Land O’ Lakes nature lovers enjoy a visual feast every day.

They see hummingbirds, Carolina wrens, cardinals, red-shouldered hawks and all of the birds of prey.

There are birds that come by to grab a bite from a feeder, enjoy the nectar from a plant, or make a snack on insects.

“If you want to attract the really nice birds, get the golden safflower bird feed,” Lillian advised. “It doesn’t sprout. The black birds and doves and pigeons — they don’t like it because it’s bitter to them.”

“We get our bird feed from Wild Bird USA,” Lillian said. “It’s nonsprouting, so it doesn’t grow weeds.”

She also noted: “We used to put out a hummingbird feeder, where you had to put the sugar water out. But, you have to change it almost every day, otherwise it’s not good.

This male pileated woodpecker was in the woods, chopping the wood to get to the bugs. (Courtesy of Lillian Cucuzza)

“I’m like, ‘I’m not doing that.’

“We also have a suet feeder out there that we get from Wild Bird. It’s the suet dough. It’s not greasy. We get a lot of the woodpeckers and different warblers,” she said.

Dave’s in charge of stocking the feeders.

Some birds hang out in a birdhouse out back or in the nearby woods. Others make their home in a pair of palm trees near the couple’s front door.

“We get little cardinals. They make little nests in there,” Lillian said.

Besides observing wildlife in their backyard, the couple also enjoys sightings of deer,

blue herons, ibises, white egrets and other winged creatures in or near a pond, on a neighboring property.

“There’s a little gator in there,” Lillian said. “I saw it recently. A little 3- or 4-footer.”

When she was waiting for the gator to make an appearance one day, a trio of deer showed up.

This blue-gray gnatcatcher was in the Cucuzzas’ backyard snacking on whatever gnats or bugs he could get. These birds are tiny — only about 4 inches from the tip of their beak to their tail, and they’re quite quick — catching gnats mid-air.

Some pointers for creating your own backyard habitat
If you’d like to make your yard a welcoming place for birds, butterflies and other creatures, here are some pointers from Lara Milligan, a natural resources agent at Pinellas County Extension. She provided these tips during a seminar she gave earlier this year at the Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park community center.

“We’re exploding with development and construction, leaving less opportunities for our native wildlife to live and exist,” Milligan said. “Any little bit that we can do in our yards, or in your community or neighborhood, is helpful and beneficial for wildlife.

“Just like us,” she reminded the audience, “wildlife need food, water, cover and space.”

When it comes to creating conducive conditions to attract wildlife, it’s important to think big, and small, she said.

“We often think of wildlife as some of these bigger creatures, but it’s really important that we’re also attracting the little creatures. If you don’t have the little guys, we’re not going to be attracting anything else,” Milligan said.

Here are some of her tips.

Tip No. 1: Limit the amount of lawn that you have. Turf grass doesn’t do much for wildlife. Consider providing alternative ground covers, such as beach sunflower or sunshine mimosa.

This Carolina Wren was sitting on the bird feeder baffle. They are small birds with a big sound.

Tip No. 2: Increase the vertical layering in your yard. You want stuff to be at all levels, from the ground level up to the tops of trees. When planting, think about what the plant will look like at maturity. You don’t want giant gaps in your landscape.

Tip No. 3: Keep those dying and diseased and knocked over trees in your landscape, unless they pose a hazard to your house. Woodpeckers and other cavity nesters rely on these snags for shelter. Screech owls can’t excavate their own cavities, so they rely on woodpeckers to do that for them.

Tip No. 4: Keep brush piles in your yard, but not next to your house. They provide shelter for the smaller organisms, which are an important part of the food chain.

Tip No. 5: Provide water. Any source of water you provide in your yard will benefit wildlife.

Tip No. 6: If you have a birdbath, remember to keep it filled at 2 inches to 3 inches of water. Birds won’t use it if the water is too deep. Also, keep it clean and don’t use chemicals to clean it. A sturdy scrub brush should do. It’s also important to keep the space around it clear so birds can see potential predators.

This female northern Cardinal caught a bug in the yard.

Tip No. 7: Plant native plants in your yard. They resist pests and diseases, and generally require less care. If you want butterflies, be sure to have plants that are appropriate for caterpillars and for butterflies. Create a small moist area of sand in your yard. Butterflies will suck water out of moist sand to give them the minerals and nutrients they need.

Tip No. 8: Add bird feeders. The diversity of bird feeders that you install will increase the diversity of birds that you attract. The same goes for seeds. Be sure to keep your bird feeders clean.

Tip No. 9: Manage your pets. Cats and dogs can have a really huge impact on native wildlife species.

Tip No. 10: Seek natural solutions to pest problems. Being vigilant can help nip pest problems in the bud. Often, spraying pests off with a hose can solve the problem. If pesticides are needed, use sparingly.

Attracting butterflies to your backyard

These plants will help

This fuzzy flower is a magnet for pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. (File)

Nectar plants

  • Firebush
  • Pentas
  • Salvia
  • Dwarf powderpuff
  • Jatropha
  • Firespike
  • Blanket flower
  • African blue basil
  • Beautyberry
  • Ironweed

Host plants

  • Native, not tropical milkweeds
  • Dutchman’s pipevine
  • Passionvine
  • Cassia
  • Partridge pea
  • Wild lime
  • Plumbago
  • Frogfruit
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Fennel

Published August 29, 2018

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