Talk focuses on creating haven for wildlife in backyards

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Anna Marie Lux
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

EVANSVILLE—Ivy Otto knows how to turn a small yard into an appealing place for wildlife.

Twenty-five years ago when she and her family moved into their Evansville home, a few tall trees occupied the mostly empty space.

“The backyard was pretty much barren,” Otto said. “I wanted to attract wildlife, so I planted things that wildlife could eat and were not poisonous to my small daughter.”

Today, Otto's daughter is grown up, and so is her yard.

She will give a free talk about how she transformed her property into a wildlife haven during the annual meeting of the Green Rock Audubon Society on Sunday, Oct. 22.

Otto planted elderberry, chokecherry, high bush cranberries and pagoda dogwood as well dwarf cherries, pears and hazelnuts. All offer wildlife feasts at different times of the year.

She put down tree limbs and stumps as a border, where she rakes leaves. The area provides safe places for butterflies and moths to hide.

She put in a pond with a solar-powered pump, and the sound of running water draws birds.

“What keeps them in the yard is cover and something to eat,” Otto said. “Lots of warblers will eat insects. One thing that attracts them in spring is the cherry, pear and apple blossoms. They nectar on them.”

She said the number of migrating birds passing through her yard this fall was “spectacular.”

“I sat in my yard 15 feet from them,” she said.

Otto has counted more than 20 species of warblers in spring and fall over the years.

The naturalist said anyone can transform a yard, even small ones.

“If a lot of people did this, we would have really good wildlife habitat in our urban areas,” Otto said. “The birds can use as much help as they can get. Their metabolisms are high, their journeys long and they have a lot against them.”

Helping birds also means helping ourselves, she said.

“When I get home from work, I can watch them,” Otto said. “For a while, I can escape the world's problems and just be in the moment. It helps to heal and recharge me.”

Otto, who works as a teaching assistant with young children, said kids are “hungry to learn about the environment.”

“If you are interested, you can bring some of the environment to your kids by providing habitat for birds,” Otto said. “It makes the world a better place for them, too.”

Prior to moving to Rock County, Otto worked as a wildlife biologist for the Pacific Northwest Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Washington. She was part of a team that surveyed, banded and studied the feeding habits of northern spotted owls. She also fought forest fires for the U.S. Forest Service.

Otto is a volunteer bird bander at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory in Colored Sands Forest Preserve, Rockton, Illinois.

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