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SUNY ESF
Nature in Your Backyard

A video series on local wildlife, the outdoors and natural phenomena

An Introduction to Nature In Your Backyard 

New York is home to a wide variety of wildlife from deer to the spotted salamander. You can make your backyard a haven with something as simple as planting shrubs or flowers that produce nectar.
Choose from the video options in the menu to the left.

American Crows are one of several species of birds that gather in large communal groups to sleep at night – roosts can number from the hundreds to thousands.

The american toad and red-backed salamander are two amphibians very likely to be found in New York State backyard. Learn about backyard amphibian habitat.

Birdfeeders are a good way to bring nature in your backyard. What varieties you attract depend on the type of birdfeeder and the birdseed. Oil-type sunflower seed is good because a number of birds like it.

Birdhouses need to fit the kind of bird you want to attract to your backyard. Size, location, installation height also determine who moves in to your birdhouse.

Winter snow gives us a chance to see who shares our backyard. Dogs, cats, deer, squirrels and the eastern cottontail rabbit are common.

You can use your backyard to create rich garden soil using lawn clippings and kitchen scraps. There are kits or bins that help speed and tidy up the process but an old fashioned pile works fine.

Earthworms are like tiny compost factories – they eat dead leaves and put out rich organic soil. They also mix up the earth and aerate it. They are also hermaphroditic – both male and female so any two earthworms can breed.

When days get shorter and temperatures start dropping in the fall, the leaves of deciduous trees change colors and fall off. The process is apparently more than pretty scenery, helping seedlings grow in the spring.

Canada Geese are the most abundant and widespread geese in North America. Resident geese are different from migratory geese, larger and even if the weather forces them to move they only travel a short distance.

Groundhogs hibernate in the winter. Their heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to only four or five while their body temperature drops from 98 degrees to as low as 38.

House Sparrows are the most common songbird in North America. They eat seed, some insects and love garbage. They do well in developed areas. Buildings provide areas to roost as well as cover.

People spend a lot of time and money creating backyard retreats and people who appreciate nature are careful not to use invasive species that crowd out native plants and reduce diversity. European Buckthorn and Japanese Barberry are two examples of plants to avoid.

Here in New York we are able to experience a weather phenomenon that occurs in very few places in the country, lake effect snow. Moist air crossing the unfrozen Great Lakes becomes large amounts of snow in areas south and east of the lakes.

The handsome mallard is the best-known wild duck. They easily acclimate to people so are common in neighborhoods year round. Don’t feed them bread and chips, neither is nutritious and it makes mallards dependent on human handouts.

One sign of spring that we can’t see is the sap flowing through deciduous trees, like this sugar maple. It’s a part of nature in our backyard that we can turn into a real sweet treat, maple syrup.

If you want to attract monarchs to your backyard either on their way to or from Mexico, you just need to plant colorful or fragrant plants such as zinnias or black-eyed susans that provide nectar for the adults.

Mosses are often overlooked, but these tiny plants can add beauty to your backyard. Yes, mosses are one of the simplest plants. They stay small because they lack the vascular tissue that carries water and nutrients up the stem. Also, like fungi and ferns, they do not form true seeds but instead just tiny spores, as small as dust.

A nature journal is a great way to learn about nature, record your backyard observations, and track how things change over time. All that’s needed is a sketchbook to draw pictures of what you see and write observations next to the drawing.

Owls are more often heard that seen. Four of the common owls in New York are the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Barn Owl, and the Little Screech owl.

Red-winged Blackbirds build their nests along stream, pond and lake borders or in marshy areas. They fiercely attack crows, hawks, or any other creature that threaten nests, including humans.

You don’t need to see nature to enjoy it. Listen for the sounds in your backyard of mourning doves, red-winged blackbirds, or amphibians like peepers and the American Toad.

Gray squirrels eat the acorns from white oaks first and store the acorns from red oaks for later. The acorns from white oaks are sweeter and mature sooner than the acorns from red oaks.

Raccoons, opossums, skunks, and foxes are all increasingly common in suburban areas and these nocturnal opportunists have learned to raid trashcans for food.

One of the largest common birds in your backyard is the Great Blue Heron, one of many wading birds that take advantage of wetlands even in residential areas. They prey on fish and other small water animals.

What makes the wooly bear so interesting is the myth that it can predict the upcoming winter by the widths of the brown and black bands of fur. But the bands do tell us about the summer just past.