The main goal of native plant garden is to help restore the foundation of the local food web, rebalancing the ecology while providing resources for local wildlife. While your native plants themselves literally make up the "habitat" most forms of backyard wildlife require, there are some additional elements you can incorporate in order to provide supplemental habitat. These added features have the ability to attract wildlife you might otherwise not observe in a suburban setting and can also act as crucial habitat to specialist wildlife that are highly adapted to these particular habitats. We recently installed a Songbird Pond for the Science Museum of Long Island and so we figured that would be the focus of this week's blog.
Unlike ornamental fish ponds, bird ponds don't need to be much deeper than a few inches. Treat them more like giant in-ground bird baths. All that is required is a pond liner of your choice and a shovel. You can also create a small stream, add a fountain, or install an aerator to promote healthy water and attract wildlife. In fact, the sound of running water is one of the most attractive sounds to wildlife, as stagnant water often breeds disease, while running, oxygenated water is healthier and cleaner. By incorporating this feature you can attract wildlife, such as certain Songbirds that might not otherwise come to a feeder of be found on the ground. I've personally attracted species such as Northern Flickers, Red-Winged Blackbirds, and even a Sora Rail - which is a wading bird normally found in wetlands.
Additional features for a bird pond include adding perches such as stones, driftwood, or branches to provide birds with ease of access; ornamental stonework around the pond, and even water loving plants such as native Irises. If you'd like to expand upon it further, deepening the pond to be at least 30 inches in some areas will help aquatic life survive a winter freeze. The addition of more native wetland plants will help keep the water clean and attract even more wildlife like beneficial Dragonflies. In time, you might even begin to attract amphibians such as Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, or Newts. Adding in a small de-icer during the winter allows for oxygen exchange and ensures wildlife have access to fresh drinking water even in times of deep freeze. As long as there is a shallow area, stream, and perches, songbirds will utilize the pond freely.
You will soon find that your garden becomes a hub for wildlife as they learn about this new resource within their environment and begin to utilize it regularly. You may be surprised by who might show up to enjoy your new water feature, especially if you have a de-icer during the winter and fresh water becomes scarce. For example, Opossums, who are absolute tick-vacuums, often leave tracks in the snow on their way to and from my pond, but are almost never seen. Male American Toads have surprised us in years' past with their "trill" mating calls. I've even experienced native wetland plants volunteer on their own, without ever having been planted by myself, such as American Water Willow, most likely brought in by wildlife. Adding in a Songbird Pond is a surefire way to support songbirds and other forms of wildlife, while adding even more ornamentation to your garden.