Lake Norman & Mooresville

How to plant a backyard habitat to support the future — bugs and all

Backyard habitats

The public learns about sustainability and how to build a backyard habitat at the Carolina Raptor Center.
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The public learns about sustainability and how to build a backyard habitat at the Carolina Raptor Center.

Some of you may remember what used to happen when critters patronized a Roach Motel, a popular brand of home pest control. The voiceover of doom on the TV commercials would blare “Roaches check in, but they don’t check out.”

The hospitality industry for insects has become a lot more friendly and accommodating since the 1970s and 80s, including in the Lake Norman area. On a recent Saturday at the Carolina Raptor Center, supporters of sustainability and backyard habitats for plants and animals were constructing Bug Hotels: temporary residences made of sticks, leaves, grass, and pinecones for all kinds of creepy crawlers to be placed outside of one’s home.

People gathered at the nature center in Huntersville to learn more about the role they and their homes can play in protecting ecosystems. The recent event was one of a dozen or so scheduled at the Raptor Center this year as part of its Sustainability Salon series.

It’s not just buttterflies and birds. We’re setting the table so everyone (all species) is welcome.

Carol Buie-Jackson

“We feel that habitat loss is a really important issue to address,” said Michelle Miller Houck, Carolina Raptor Center’s associate executive director. “As we, the Carolina Raptor Center, tries to move the big needle, that is something we need to address. This falls right into our mission. This falls into our idea in attracting people here, engaging them, and shooting them out into the world to do good work.”

Homes can be certified backyard habitats, but so can public buildings such as business, schools, and churches. The presence of four basic elements are required for certification: food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.

Bird enthusiast Carol Buie-Jackson attended the Raptor Center’s event and told how people can apply for their homes to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the NC Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation. Buie-Jackson explained that the Charlotte-area’s growth and building development boom have threatened natural habitats for numerous plants and animals.

“You need all the parts of the ecosystem for it to work,” said Buie-Jackson, co-owner of Bird House on the Greenway store in south Charlotte. “Nature has a really great design. When we go in with development, we mess with that design. If we can recreate that and take our cues from nature and what we plant in our backyard then we can re-establish the nature in that design.”

Buie-Jackson explained that homes can be certified backyard habitats but so can public buildings such as business, schools, and churches. The presence of four basic elements are required for certification: food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.

“There’s various ways to do that,” she said. “It’s not just buttterflies and birds. We’re setting the table so everyone (all species) is welcome. … It doesn’t have to be a 100-acre estate. It can be somebody’s courtyard, putting a bird bath or bird feeder in or planting native plants, putting a nesting box out.”

Buie-Jackson said the local chapter of the NC Wildlife Federation, the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists, has worked to certify local towns as community wildlife habitats.

While Buie-Jackson specializes in the birds that may nest around a home, Margaret Genkins is an expert in the plant life that may attract them. The formula she manifests for a strong ecosystem is rather simple: indigenous insects eat indigenous plants, and indigenous birds feast on those insects.

Genkins says humans have betrayed native ecosystems since the 1700s but today’s good stewards can try to right those wrongs.

“People say, ‘I’m just one person, what does it matter if I plant a privet (a foreign plant) in my yard or I plant a (native) yaupon holly?’” said Genkins. “That’s important to Lake Norman and south Charlotte.

“It matters because that privet, a beautiful evergreen plant, is invasive. It’s destroying acres and acres of natural habitat. But if you plant that one native plant, a yaupon holly, instead, you’ve planted something that’s also beautiful but it’s also a host plant to a variety of native insects.”

Huntersville resident Li Lin Lee lives with her husband, Bhaskar Choudhury, and their daughters Maya, 7, and Leela, 3, near Torrence Creek Greenway. Lee says they visited Carolina Raptor Center because they are interested in the environment and nature and want to do more to support habitats near their home.

“We have bird feeders out,” said Lee. “We’re talking a little bit about doing more like putting out a bird bath and like putting plants in that are more natural to this area so we can bring the traffic of butterflies. We’ve had a couple years where we’ve had swallowtail butterfly caterpillars and we brought them in the house and watched them become a chrysalis and become butterflies.”

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: joehabina@yahoo.com.

Learn more

If you are interested in your home being a Certified Wildlife Habitat, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s website at www.nwf.org.

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