Think about wildlife habitat this month

Last spring, Julie Higgie shared tips about certifying yards as wildlife habitats.

She was trained as a habitat steward by the National Wildlife Federation and certified as an environmental educator by the State of North Carolina's Department of Environmental Education.

Higgie completed two years of training to earn certification. During a tour of her property, she mentioned that most yards have the basic elements to sustain wildlife.

When I began certifying my yard, I realized Higgie was correct. Making minor changes in the landscape created a wildlife friendly space. I had been providing food and shelter for an assortment of birds, including cardinals, bluebirds, Carolina chickadees and a few goldfinches. Adding a feeder with Nyjer thistle seed and planting sunflowers attracted more goldfinches.

Following Higgie's suggestion, I set up a butterfly puddling area and was rewarded with visits from monarchs and swallowtails. The next step was the purchase of an identification guide.

Higgie told me about a hummingbird moth, and I was delighted to spot one flying among petals of vinca. The colors are similar to a hummingbird, but the insect is much smaller.

Placing a Certified Wildlife Habitat sign in the yard has led to conversations with neighborhood walkers about the importance of helping support wildlife. January is a perfect time to think about improving habitat.

Visit for tips.

Soon you'll be observing nature and sharing information. After watching the birds in my yard, I have become attuned to their preferences.

With colder than normal temperatures, birds need help. Consider adding birdhouses to the landscape. The boxes serve double duty. They act as nesting sites during spring and summer and in winter provide shelter.

Watch a birdhouse around 5 p.m. on a cold afternoon as various species enter. They pile on top of each other for warmth and depart early in the morning. Sometimes as many as 13 birds flock to one house.

Place birdhouses and feeders in spots that are visible from a window. Keep binoculars and bird guides nearby. Your efforts will be rewarded throughout the year.

Adding a winter blend of seed will increase activity at feeding stations and provide additional nutrition. Smaller birds prefer this diet. Suet is a welcome addition.

To discourage squirrels from raiding stations, fill one with safflower seed. Cardinals and other large birds eat the food, but squirrels ignore it.

Although their colors are less vivid this time of year, goldfinches remain in the area.

Birds need water in winter. Low temperatures have frozen water in birdbaths. To prevent damage, empty the bowl and replace it with a large plastic plant saucer. When water freezes in the saucer, crack the ice and refill with fresh water. Heaters are also available.

Surprisingly, some birds jump into the saucer and splash around on cold, windy days. A few saucers of water placed around the yard in the summer attract smaller perching birds.

During the Christmas snow, vivid color filled the backyard as birds flew among feeders, shrubbery and trees. A modest amount of effort is required to sustain native wildlife, but the rewards outweigh the effort.