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Climate and Environment

How To Make Your Backyard A ‘Five-Star Habitat’ For Wildlife

A series of six preview thumbnails for an Instagram account show, clockwise from top left, an owl peaking out of a birdhouse, a small bird, a tree with exposed roots, an image of the owl in black and white with the words "When you're an owl and you find your favorite bedding, a raven, and a spider with the caption "Just give her a chance."
'The Daily James' on Instagram has more than 200,000 followers who follow: "A once boring yard in Los Angeles transformed into a Five-Star Habitat™️ for the Wild Life"
(Courtesy of LouAnne Brickhouse)
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An unexpected visit from a pair of ravens opened LouAnne Brickhouse’s eyes to the rich and dynamic ecosystem that existed in her own Los Angeles backyard. That was late December a few years ago. Since then, fascinated by the relationship between these two birds, she began cataloging their lives, and the lives of the other wildlife that visited her home on her Instagram account The Daily James.

Listen to the latest from our Human/Nature podcast: The Nature Of Your Own Backyard

It’s a lively cast of characters. She named the original visitors James and Margaret after James Baldwin and Margaret Mead. There’s also Ms. Bonita the gray squirrel and Mr. Zamn Zaddy the California quail. Brickhouse’s furry and feathered visitors have opened her eyes to how little we as humans understand about the natural world — and how wildlife constantly has new lessons to offer us.

The Daily James now has more than 200,000 followers and Brickhouse has posted more than 3,000 times.

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“I think the thing that helps me is just to listen and to be still and let the animals teach me and train me. They let me know what's OK. And I really take my cues from them,” says Brickhouse, who lives in the Hollywood Hills. “It's a matter of being still, and just watching and listening and paying attention, as opposed to saying, ‘well, this is what I think. Let me give you my opinion.’”

Over the years, she has also transformed her yard into a “five-star habitat” for wildlife, decked out with almost 50 cameras that capture everything from coyotes stopping by to drink from the fountain to recently hatched baby owls.

“I've really come to know how important it is that we find a way to just share our space,” says Brickhouse, who for years worked in Hollywood as a film executive before pivoting to writing. “And not only share our space because it's the right thing to do, but because it's way more fun.”

Brickhouse gave a tour of her yard and talked about her journey on the latest episode of the Human/Nature podcast from LAist Studios hosted by Marcos Trinidad, a nature expert with roots in North East L.A.

And here are a few tips for how to make your own yard a more welcoming place for Southern California’s critters:

1. Embrace Native Plants

The birds, insects, and mammals of Southern California feel most at home in the environments they evolved to inhabit, so it’s important to take cues from the local ecosystem when planning your yard. Landscaping with native plants like California buckwheat, California poppies, or California roses will attract a wide range of local species, and will serve as a haven for the native pollinators that keep L.A.’s ecosystems thriving.

The Xerces society list of the best California pollinator plants and the Audubon Society’s native plants database both provide great recommendations for where to start, and you can find pesticide-free versions of these plants at nurseries that specialize in native plants, like the Theodore Payne Foundation store or Hahamongna Nursery.

And, of course, it’s also good for the environment, particularly with the state in a significant drought and new water restrictions in place.

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2. Make Sure There’s Plenty To Eat And Drink

Providing animals with regular sources of food and water will keep them coming back to your yard again and again. Creating a simple birdbath will provide you with hours of entertainment, as you watch sparrows, scrub jays, and house finches splash in the water. Growing plants with bite-sized fruits, like elderberries, or with nectar-filled flowers, such as purple sage, will also make your yard a veritable buffet for birds and other critters.

And who can forget when a bear visited Susanne Whatley when she was live on the air hosting our newsroom’s Morning Edition program on 89.3 KPCC.

3. Let Things Get A Little Messy

While there’s plenty of pressure to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to yard maintenance, a “less is more” approach to lawn care is sure to make your yard more lively. A couple examples:

  • When you refrain from pruning tree branches that creates shelter for nesting birds
  • Leaving your leaves on the ground or putting down mulch creates habitats for ground-nesting bees and the insects enjoyed by ground-feeding animals

Aside from sucking up tons of water and doing little for local plants and animals, grass lawns are also terrible for climate change. So why not take a break from mowing and sit back to enjoy the birds?

What questions do you have about Southern California?