It’s bird migration season in Indiana. Plant a native tree to keep biodiversity alive.

Check out the recent opinion piece by our Executive Director in the Indy Star.

 

A Testament to Trees, and Urban Rewilding.

 

My relationship with trees has always been one of admiration. Growing up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania I was surrounded by them, and one, the Witness Tree, held a special allure for Gettysburgians and fans of American history. Despite this admiration, it is only in recent years that I have begun to truly appreciate the impact these magnificent sentinels can have on my wellbeing.

Upon moving to midtown Indianapolis in the early twenty-teens my wife and I were fortunate to buy a home in Oliver Johnson’s Woods, a small neighborhood with some fantastic old trees. One of the beauties of my neighborhood is it developed organically over time. The layout of the houses and landscaping plan was not contrived to maximize profits and minimize diversity. The houses don’t match, nor do the trees, and this is what makes it so magical! We have Black Walnut, Sycamore, Hackberry, Tulip Poplar, American Beech, Pignut Hickory and so many more! Compared to modern-day developments, they tend to have prescribed plantings, often just a single species, or if you’re lucky, two species throughout the entire neighborhood, a near monoculture. To make matters worse, these are often cultivars, or worse, non-native and often times invasive species like the omnipresent Bradford Pear, that wreak havoc on native ecosystems.

In the decade-plus since we moved to Indianapolis, we have done our fair share of plantings. We’ve added Sugar Maples, an Ohio Buckeye, a Catalpa, several Paw Paws, and a wide array of native flowers, grasses, and shrubs. While this planting has taken time, the benefits are beginning to show. Just this morning, as I sat on my back porch, I saw over fifty species of birds! Many of these are common to Indianapolis, local favorites like the Northern Cardinal, American Robin, House Wren, and Downy Woodpecker. Others however were visiting my backyard amid an epic journey, one that may have begun weeks ago as far away as Brazil and Venezuela!  As I sit on my back porch I’m delighted by the beautiful colors and calls of such vivid migrants as Great Crested Flycatchers, Magnolia Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Northern Parula, and Ovenbirds! These names may not mean much to everyone, but I promise if you see and hear them your spirits will rise and you’ll fall into a sense of calm.

As you can tell, I love birds. I always have, and I hope always will. Yet it is only in recent years I’ve truly begun to understand the importance of trees and other native plants to our avian friends. Yes, I have bird feeders, but nothing can replace the trees these animals have evolved to depend upon. If you love wildlife and want to help, one of the best things you can do is plant a native tree! Many are slow-growing, and they may not reveal their magic to you anytime soon. But, if you plant that tree I can assure you someday in the future a person will sit in wonder, experiencing the magic that tree has provided, and thank the person who planted it.

Right now, Indiana sits in the middle of one of nature’s great wonders, the northward migration of New World warblers. Grab a pair of binoculars, find a bird walk to join, download a free birding app, and get outside! This happens every year, and every year I’m reminded of the magic of nature as a sense of wonder reawakens inside of me. And oh yeah, while you’re out there marveling at these tiny jewels, don’t forget to thank a tree, without them this wouldn’t be possible!

 

Dan Boritt is Executive Director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation and a life-long lover of nature.

Hoosier Conservation Newsletter | August 2023

Read the August 2023 edition of the IWF Hoosier Conservation Newsletter. The Monarch Tagging Season is almost here! Dan has important legislative updates in his Letter from the ED. We have speakers for our upcoming Annual Conference and we’re very excited about what they have to share.

Wildlife Tips and Facts for the 2017 Wildlife Week

Improve Wildlife Habitat

Plant native plants in your backyard. Native plants provide crucial food sources and habitat for everything from pollinators to mammals. Being native, these plants are adapted to our specific climate, competition, and herbivores, benefitting our environment.  You can purchase native plants through our Native Plant Sale or at a local supplier:

IWF Native Plant Sale: http://www.indianawildlife.org/wildlife/native-plants/native-plant-sale/

Local Suppliers: http://www.indianawildlife.org/wildlife/sources-indiana-native-plants

Remove invasive species from your yard and local natural areas. Invasive species are exotic species that spread quickly and overcome native plants. Being from another ecosystem, these plants have few, if any, natural predators. They are able to grow rapidly, forming dense colonies that are detrimental to the environment. Even if they just start in your yard, they can spread everywhere! Find a list of invasive species here.

Build feeders or homes for wildlife that you want to attract. There are many types of different feeders, catering to pollinators, different bird species, and mammals. In addition, you can build bird houses for your yard that can house anything from owls to cardinals. There are even bug houses, bat boxes, and toad abodes you can build if you want to attract these species. We have plenty of ideas for these activities on our Pinterest page!

Certify your yard, trail, or campus as wildlife habitat or a sustainable space. Through our Habitat Workshops, Sustainable Trails Initiative, and Landscaping the Sustainable Campus program, you can learn about the best ways to create a sustainable space for humans and wildlife. We offer certification programs so you can know the best steps to take in your process and show off your success when finished.

Volunteer through local conservation organizations or through citizen science efforts. Local conservation groups like IWF can always use volunteer help,. Want to help the conservation cause by participating in a fun citizen science project? Join our group on YardMap where you can plot your yard and everything in it, share advice with others, and see what kind of positive impact you’re having on wildlife!

Experience Wildlife

Visit state parks and other natural areas throughout the state. Indiana has a plethora of state parks and state forests that offer a variety of recreation opportunities. There are trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Indiana also has great fishing and hunting opportunities, so don’t forget to purchase your license. Check out other areas in Indiana like the Hoosier National Forest and local land trusts that offer recreation opportunities too!

Connect kids to wildlife through the IWF Kids’ Contest, Indiana Children and Nature Network’s Nature Play Days (keep an eye out for IWF’s event!), and these activities provided by National Wildlife Federation. These fun educational games are a great way to draw kids’ attention to wildlife that surrounds them.

Enroll in a Master Naturalist Course to take your identification skills to the next level. These courses offer certification level training so that you can become a pro outdoors, identifying all types of species. These courses also offer a great networking opportunity where you can meet some of the most experienced naturalists in the state.

http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/6321.htm

Indiana’s Notable Wildlife

Monarch Butterfly – The Monarch butterfly is known for its iconic orange colors and its incredible migration journey from Mexico to Canada and back again. Protecting Monarch habitat in this range will benefit all pollinators, benefitting our food system and natural beauty as a whole. The Monarch is reliant on different types of milkweed for food and reproduction, as they only lay their eggs on milkweed and only feed on milkweed leaves during their larval stages. This makes milkweed hugely important to the continued survival of these beautiful creatures. Want to help the monarch butterfly? Contact your mayor and ask them to sign on to the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge! IWF helped 12 cities and municipalities sign on already, and together we can get more! You can also plant milkweed in your yard or purchase a butterfly kit from our native plant sale to help monarchs in your yard. You can find out more about U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s efforts and how you can help here.

Cardinal – The state bird is a frequent flier throughout the state. These birds spend most of their lives in their mating pairs, through both summer and winter. The iconic bright red bird is the male, whereas the female has much more subdued plumage. Cardinals are often seen along hedgerows and wood margins, and nest among shrubs and saplings. This beautiful bird has a lovely singing voice that can brighten the mood of any day. These qualities have earned the bird the right to be the Indiana state bird, and are even protected nationally.

Curious about other Indiana state symbols? Click here to learn more.

Sandhill Crane – Sandhill Cranes are another migrating species that pass through Indiana biannually, with some residing for longer. In late fall and early spring, these cranes can be seen in massive quantities in areas like Jasper-Pulaski FWA, in numbers exceeding 10,000. These birds travel a huge distance, from Mexico to the northern reaches of Canada. Some of these birds even cross the Bering Strait into Siberia for breeding purposes. Other birds are solitary, residing in Cuba or Florida without migrating. Every year Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County hosts Marsh Madness. This annual event celebrates the sandhill crane migration through Indiana with an assortment of events and viewing opportunities. Find out more here. View the video below for more information regarding the migration through Jasper-Pulaski FWA.

Hellbender Salamander – The Hellbender Salamander earned its name for its uniquely ugly appearance. With a broad head, baggy skin, large tail, and a color to match the murky river beds where it resides, this salamander is not a pretty sight at first glance. However, these one of a kind salamanders are actually the largest in North America, reaching up to 30 inches in length and 5 pounds in weight! These salamanders trudge through the muddy and rocky bottoms of rivers and creeks, eating crayfish and mollusks while living under rocks. Hellbenders used to be much more widespread, inhabiting different waterways in Indiana and throughout Appalachia into New York. Today, due to widespread pollution and habitat degradation, their range is decreasing, and can only be found in the Blue River of Indiana. Hellbenders, and other amphibians, are considered indicator species that show the health and water quality of an ecosystem. You can learn about Purdue Extension’s efforts to protect and save the Hellbender through this video. More information is available on their website.

You can view a video about Hellbender protection efforts in Appalachia here: https://vimeo.com/108512185

Indiana Bat – The Indiana Bat is a state and federally endangered species due in large part to white-nose bat syndrome, a fungus that wakes bats prematurely from hibernation. These bats, as well as other species, are crucial to ecosystems worldwide. Bats serve as pollinators and insect control, benefitting ecosystems, crops, and mosquito hating citizens. Bats are incredible nocturnal creatures that fly and locate prey using echolocation. They emit high pitched frequencies that bounce off objects back to the bat, telling them the location of the object or location. During the day, bats roost in caves, under bark of trees, and in bat boxes. Indiana bats only produce one offspring per year in the spring, and then spend much of the year feeding and preparing for winter hibernation.

Learn more about Indiana Bats and conservation efforts to protect them here: http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3371.htm

Black Bear – Indiana has recently experienced its first black bear sightings in many years. These black bears are not residents yet, but visitors from Kentucky and Michigan. However, with improved conservation efforts, Indiana may have its own residential black bears permanently. This would create many ecosystem shifts and much public education on coexisting with these creatures. You can learn more about Indiana’s most recent black bear in our article here.

River Otter – River otters, along with beavers, once provided a profitable market in the fur trade. Whereas this market was beneficial for the economy, it resulted in the local extinction of the animal. However, since that time, river otters have been successfully reintroduced to Indiana.

The conservation success story even surpassed the states goals, and today the river otter has been removed from the state endangered species list. River otter can be found in 80 counties across the state in riparian zones. These fun loving creatures are mostly solitary, but can be seen playing in rivers and streams during mating season as a ritual, as well as sliding down banks into the water.

Learn more about river otters and their reintroduction here.

Wildlife-Friendly Yards & Weed Ordinances: Finding the Balance

Many people who want to create wildlife-friendly landscapes often run into the frustrating hurdle of municipal weed ordinances.

Although created with good intentions, these restrictions can make it difficult to use the plants that are best adapted for the local soils and climate and that provide food and shelter for wildlife. That being said, there are ways that you can manage your native plants and have a beautiful, sustainable yard that supports the local ecosystem without violating ordinances.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your yard:
  • Remove any invasive plants or (verified) noxious weeds
  • Use design standards like scale, variety, emphasis, balance, sequence, etc., to create an aesthetically-pleasing and intentional look
  • Tout the benefits of natives—cost savings, lower maintenance, food and shelter sources for wildlife, erosion prevention, runoff control, water conservation, and so on
  • Add borders or trims
  • Use common sense regarding a plant’s height and width (in other words, don’t relinquish all control and DO maintain your natives)
  • Be respectful of your neighbors’ rights
  • Take a 360-degree view so you can envision how plants will look from others’ perspectives
  • Use pervious materials to create defined paths
  • Plan ahead, start small, and notify your neighbors about your intentions
  • Get your yard certified as a Wildlife-Friendly Habitat through our joint program with NWF and post your certification sign!

 

For more information on managing your natural landscape and weed ordinances, visit the Wild Ones website.