Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Yard

Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife National Wildlife Federation 2004 Cover Courtesy and Copyright Creative Homeowner a.k.a Fox Chapel Publishing
Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife
National Wildlife Federation 2004
Cover Courtesy and Copyright Creative Homeowner a.k.a Fox Chapel Publishing
As human populations increase, and construction developments overtake agricultural land and wildlife habitat, some people may feel as if there is little hope for local connections to nature. Don’t raise the white flag of surrender. There is much you can do in your own yards to help attract wild songbirds and butterflies.
The simple answer is to keep things in line with restoring their natural habitat by providing food, water, shelter and places to raise their young.

The best way to restore, or maintain, a successful and healthy ecosystem is to utilize “native” plants. Natives are basically the plants that would grow in the area naturally. Although some exotic transplants from other locations can be stunning to look at, and may even grow successfully in a new environment, wildlife may not be able to adapt to its use as food or shelter. In fact, those foreign plants may actually spread and push out native plants and prevent songbirds and pollinators from entering your yard. Some of them also carry diseases for which our native plants have no immunity.

Scientific studies have proven that having a diversity of plant species in an area improves the health of all those plants…..if they are natives to that locale. And healthy plants provide healthy benefits for wildlife and people. Westerners should reconsider the idea of having a monoculture lawn of Kentucky Bluegrass that is so common in the Eastern parts of the U.S.

What are some factors that determine which native plants will succeed in your area?
Learn about the elements and nutrients in your soil by using simple soil-test kits which can be purchased at Garden Centers.

Can you obtain plants that will succeed in natural soils, or will you have to supplement it with chemical fertilizers? Are you willing to deal with the potential effects of additional chemical use?
Some plants require mostly sunny areas, some shady, and some a combination of both.
What is the climate like in your locale? Don’t confuse this with weather. Climate is the average condition of a place for twenty years or more.

What is the normal precipitation pattern? Will you have to supplement that with irrigation? Can you afford that if your area is suffering from drought conditions?
Make certain that you check the cold-hardiness zone of plants you purchase. Some commercial retail stores will sell whatever they are shipped, often knowing that those plants will never survive in your area.

For a list of Utah native trees, shrubs, and flowers, research:
* Utah Native Plant Society at unps.org

*Utah State University Extension Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping at cwel.usu.edu

And you can always “Google” Native Plants + Utah.

* Plantnative.org/rpl-ut.htm

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright 2004 NWF.org
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

D. Mizejewski, Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife (Reston, VA: National Wildlife Federation/Fox Chapel Publishing, 2004). https://www.amazon.com/National-Wildlife-Federation-Attracting-Butterflies/dp/1580111505/
Publisher Website: https://foxchapelpublishing.com/national-wildlife-federation-r-attracting-birds-butterflies-backyard-wildlife.html

Certify Your Wildlife Habitat, National Wildlife Federation, Accessed 20 July 2017, http://www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-For-Wildlife.aspx
Certify: http://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx

Creating Landscapes for Wildlife… A Guide for Backyards in Utah, Written by Sue Nordstrom and Illustrated by Kathlyn Collins Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University with Margy Halpin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Second Printing 2001,
Updated for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, by Frank Howe, DWR Avian coordinator; Ben Franklin, DWR–Utah Natural Heritage Program botanist; Randy Brudnicki, DWR publications editor; and landscape planning illustrations by Stephanie Duer.,
Published by:
State of Utah Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources,
Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service and
Utah State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning;
1991 updated 2001 http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215

Jack Loves the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore


I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Kervin, Linda, USA National Phenology Network, Wild About Utah, July 2, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/usa-national-phenology-network/

Hellstern, Ron, Journey North, Wild About Utah, March 19, 2018, http://wildaboututah.org/journey-north/

Greene, Jack, I Love the Four Seasons, Wild About Utah, May 3, 2015, http://wildaboututah.org/i-love-the-four-seasons/

Conners, Deanna, Why Earth has 4 seasons, EarthSky.org, September 20, 2016, http://earthsky.org/earth/can-you-explain-why-earth-has-four-seasons

State Symbols

Most people could probably name the state bird or the state tree, but what about the state gem? The state grass? State fruit? Do you know why they are important to Utah? Here are just a few of Utah’s State Symbols that you might not have known.

State Symbols: Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard's Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard’s Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Topaz was named Utah’s state gem in 1969 because of its abundance on Topaz or Thomas Mountain in Juab County. In this area, perfect topaz crystals can be found and collected. This semiprecious gem can also be found in Beaver and Toole counties. Topaz can be found in a variety of colors, but in the Thomas Range it is known for its sherry hue. When exposed to sunlight, amber colored topaz will often become clear. Topaz collecting is free and open to the public in most areas and could be a great way to get to know Utah a little bit better.

Utah’s state grass was selected in 1990 to be Indian Ricegrass. As you might suspect, indian ricegrass was given its name because of the significance in Native American life. This tough bunchgrass was a common food source and was absolutely crucial to survival when the corn crop failed.

Indian Ricegrass Courtesy US National Park Service
Indian Ricegrass
Courtesy US National Park Service
It can be found in wet and dry areas throughout the West. Long ago this grass was important for Native Americans; now it is important in fighting wind erosion and grazing cattle.

The cherry did not become the state fruit until 1997 when a group of second graders did their research and petitioned for the fruit to be recognized. Cherry was discovered to be the most economically beneficial fruit for Utah when compared to other fruits like peaches and apples. Both sweet and tart cherries are grown commercially in Utah. Utah is the only state ranked in the top five cherry producing states for both types of cherries.

US Cherries for sale in Korea Courtesy USDA
US Cherries for sale in Korea
Courtesy USDA
The cherry is native to Asia, but flourishes in Utah’s environment.

The state insect might be a little easier to guess than the state grass and state fruit. Utah is known as the beehive state, so naturally our state insect is the honeybee. When settlers first arrived in Utah they called it Deseret which means honeybee. Some native bees are listed as endangered species, but many Utahns have become “backyard beekeepers” to help these bees survive.

Honeybee Extracts Nectar Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Honeybee Extracts Nectar
Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Bees might seem insignificant, but are actually the unsung heroes of the world’s food supply. Growing bee friendly plants or becoming a beekeeper yourself are great ways to help Utah’s honeybee thrive.

No matter where in the state of Utah you are, you can learn more about these plants, animals, and rocks and see them in action. As a Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS and US FWS
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

State Symbols, as found on OnlineLibrary.Utah.gov, http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/

Utah as found in StateSymbolsUSA.org: https://statesymbolsusa.org/states/united-states/utah

Gorman, Steve, U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time, Scientific American, A Division of Nature America, Inc., Jan 11, 2017,
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-lists-a-bumble-bee-species-as-endangered-for-first-time/

Hrala, Josh, 7 Bee Species Have Been Added to The US Endangered Species List, ScienceAlert.com, 3 OCT 2016, https://www.sciencealert.com/seven-species-of-bees-have-been-added-to-the-endangered-species-list

Insects: Bees in trouble and agriculture decline, Endangered Species International, Inc. http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/insects6.html

Ingraham, Christopher, Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine, Washington Post, October 10, 2016
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/10/believe-it-or-not-the-bees-are-doing-just-fine/

Butterflies

Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas, Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer
Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas,
Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer

A few months ago, on a trail run in the Bear River range in Northern Utah, I became engulfed in a cloud of butterflies beyond anything I had experienced before. Milbert’s totiseshells and Swallowtails were the primary species. This is the year of the butterfly. I have seen many eruptive populations both in Northern and Southern Utah. Especially in the tortoiseshell family in the North and bumper crops of Field Crescents at Cedar Breaks National Monument in the south.

This has given me pause to reflect on how climate change may be influencing their populations. As I described in an earlier Wild About Utah reading, over half of Utah bird species are showing considerable stress from a changing climate. Might the same be occurring for the Lepidopterans, or butterflies?

Many studies have shown that that butterflies are among the species that have responded the most to climate change, usually in the form of northward or elevation range shifts. There are many documented instances of disruption of essential interactions of butterflies with their food plants. Recently, a number of researchers have warned, that the common biological effect of shifting towards earlier time to reproduction can have multiple and cascading effects. Species lacking adaptability may have reduced fitness, increased mortality and disrupt a whole food web which had evolved to thrive when there was a synchronous timing of resources that can no more be found. Climate change can also effect flight times of butterflies. The warmer temperatures will result in more generations of multiple brooded species. But how this will effect egg laying periods and other life traits that are determined by photoperiodism is unknown.

With a warming climate, butterflies at the highest elevation site are appearing with increasing frequency. Those that normally breed at 7000 feet now breed at 9000 feet. This upslope movement can cause a time lag problem because plants move more slowly than butterflies. If butterflies don’t have the plant resources they need, they cannot breed at these higher elevations. This may explain the low numbers of butterflies I’ve noted in my outings at Tony Grove lake in recent years.

In order for conservation plans to be developed, there is a pressing need for a better understanding of how climate effects Lepidopterans and their essential interactions. There is much we still don’t know. With more information, on these intricacies, we can better design more effective plans.

A month ago, I found myself in England assisting a team of Darby University faculty and students for pollinator research which included butterflies and moths. European scientists are well ahead of the US in the understanding of patterns of butterfly response to climate change. We must step up to the challenge if we and future generations are to continue enjoying butterflies for years to come.

Later this month I will be leading a butterfly field trip to Tony Grove lake followed by joining a University of Washington PhD student on Mount Rainier to study butterfly populations. …my small contribution towards maintaining healthy numbers of these marvelous creatures that brighten our day and make significant contributions towards maintaining ecosystem stability.

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Utah Public Radio
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Denali’s Butterflies – Denali National Park & Preserve, https://www.nps.gov/dena/learn/nature/denalibutterflies.htm

Crescent (Phyciodes sp.) Butterflies, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Montana, US FWS, https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147574863

http://www.butterflywebsite.com/

http://monarchwatch.org

All About Butterflies, Enchanted Learning, http://www.zoomwhales.com/subjects/butterfly/allabout/

Andrea Liberatore, Monarch Butterflies, Wild About Utah, 13 Sept 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/monarch-butterflies/

Jack Greene, Butterflies, Wild About Utah, 4 July 2016, http://wildaboututah.org/butterflies/

Andrea Liberatore, Insect Mimicry and Camouflage, Wild About Utah, 31 July 2014, http://wildaboututah.org/insect-mimicry/

Bugguide, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University,
Species Phyciodes pulchella – Field Crescent, http://bugguide.net/node/view/24562
Species Aglais milberti – Milbert’s Tortoiseshell – Hodges#4433, http://bugguide.net/node/view/30387
Family Papilionidae – Swallowtails, Parnassians, http://bugguide.net/index.php?q=search&keys=swallowtail