Making Concord a better home for wildlife

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the red-shouldered hawk I’ve sighted in my front yard for the past couple of years. I miss the way he’d spread his brawny wings and soar upward into the trees across the road.

I’ve relied on the property across the street for much of my wildlife sightings during the years; there’s acreage there that has been home to rabbits, deer and fox, and sometimes they wander into my yard and pay me a short visit.

I’d like to see more of the same, so I am planning to find out more about the National Wildlife Federation program that has helped the city of Concord and its residents do just that.

About two years ago, John Robbins, chairman of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, contacted Mayor Scott Padgett with a proposal: Making Concord a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat. The program asks that a certain number of homes in the community, based on population, adapt practices that encourage wildlife by offering food, water, cover and places to raise young.

The program also teaches participants how to adopt sustainable gardening practices that will reduce water usage, remove invasive plants and substitute native ones and eliminate the use of pesticides.

Padgett and the City Council offered full support for the idea, which also included possible programming that would educate residents through workshops and holding native plant sales.

Two years later, Concord became the 82nd community in the country and the fifth in the state of North Carolina to be designated a Community Wildlife Habitat. Concord’s certifications included 200 homes; six common areas, workplaces or public spaces; five schools and additional habitats from other property types.

The residents who spearheaded the effort were so dedicated that, of the five communities in North Carolina to receive NWF certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat, Concord was the fastest.

Better yet: the group who begun the project formed the Concord Wildlife Alliance to help the city develop long-term plans to continue conservation efforts.

The certification, Robbins says, is just the beginning for the Concord Wildlife Alliance chapter.

Now the chapter is working to get more families to participate in the program by gaining certification. The alliance is also working on creating community conservation projects and encouraging children to get outdoors.

It’s an addictive process, apparently, even for someone like Robbins, a long-time outdoorsman.

“For my family, the more we learned, the more we wanted to do,” he says, “including adding native plantings, water sources, food sources, getting rid of invasive plants and quit mowing.”

Now, Robbins can point to obvious changes on his property: A greater variety of birds. More bugs, too, though he’s quick to add that this is a good thing for the environment. He has sighted more hawks overhead and more foxes on the ground.

Everyone can make improvements, Robbins adds. The backyard can become a habitat and a learning environment.

This effort, like those that made Concord an All-American City a few years back, has been a group one. A number of dedicated residents came together to make this happen.

Might you create incentive for children to go outside to discover the real world they inhabit instead of remaining fixed to their pads and tablets? Could you, and the kids, begin to see a greater variety of birds at the bird feeder? How might we, as a community, better conserve our resources and hand them on to the next generation?

I’d like to see that hawk again. Making more of our city landscape into part of our community’s wildlife habitat might make that possible.

Barbara Thiede is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Barbara? Email her at