August 01, 2011
Backyards Become Oases For Wildlife During Drought
By Chad Love
As the drought afflicting the southern part of the nation deepens, wildlife is moving out of the woods and into our yards in search of what little food and water is available.
From this story in the Houston Chronicle:
The rat looked dead. It was face down, arms splayed, in the big shallow pan of water placed near the fence as succor for the wildlife suffering in adjacent woods left blistering hot and deadly dry by Texas' ongoing drought. Every morning, we'd fill the pan with clean, cool water and then watch as a steady parade of wildlife trickled from the woods to slake their obviously considerable thirst or nibble at the mix of millet, sunflowers, shelled corn and other food we scattered for them. There were cat squirrels, swamp rabbits, possums, coons and all manner of birds. It was an all-day procession, a sure sign the deepening drought was causing wildlife that normally survived by living wary and crepuscular lives to do something they normally would not do - abandon the cover of the forest and expose themselves in a wide-open yard during the middle of the day to get a drink of water or a bite of food...The rat, it turned out, wasn't dead at all. It was simply floating in the water, trying to keep cool and hydrated.
I can commiserate. I recently blogged about watering my yard during a drought on the Quail Forever website. In short, we're up to our ears in wildlife. Not surprising, considering our backyard is (to put it mildly) of the non-manicured variety (mostly weeds, in fact) and is as wildlife-friendly as I can make it. But what's really bringing them in is the water. Earlier this year, right before this insane drought/heat wave really cranked up, we had a small sprinkler system installed around our yard and garden. We did it not because we're interested in having a trophy lawn (we're not) but because it's literally the only way to keep any vegetation alive in our sandy soil. I hadn't planned on it becoming an oasis for drought-stricken wildlife, but that's exactly what it's turned into. Between that and the "water garden" (i.e. the bait tank) our little acre or so of greenery is fast becoming like those mid-summer water holes you see on the African documentaries...
I can now say I've finally found a good use for watering the yard. We've had more quail whistling around the house year than we've ever had. Deer? We've had more than we can count. We've got does with one fawn. We've got does with two fawns. We've got a tom who has, quite literally, moved in with us. He hangs out in the back yard all day long, sleeping in our flowerbed. And when he gets up to scratch around the bird feeder, there's always a doe hanging around to steal his spot.
We're also plum covered up in leopard frogs eating grasshoppers, ribbon snakes eating leopard frogs and coons eating ribbon snakes and whatever else they can stuff down their throats. We've got sharpies and Cooper's hawks picking off songbirds, cottontails trying to pick off my garden, short-eared owls picking off the rabbits and the turkey vultures getting the last word on everyone. Nothing like epic drought to make things chummy. It's a regular chain 'o life in our back yard this summer. The Disney crowd would be enthralled. Or horrified. In fact, I half expect to wake up some morning and have a pair of mallards swimming around the water garden. And if we don't get any rain - and soon - it may end up being my go-to duck hunting spot this year.
Anyone else noticing an increase in wildlife in your yard or neighborhood?