Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, April 7, 2018


On a cool September morning, these two female Bushtits huddled together for warmth. Their shared feathers were so interwoven it was hard to tell where one bird started and the other stopped. I suspect they spent the night side by side, each facing in opposite directions. I wonder if the seating arrangement was by design. It certainly would allow them to see danger from every angle.

I was inspired to search for this photo by my friends Dan Pedersen and Craig Johnson. Last week, in Dan's post When the Birds Come Home, he included a number of Craig's delightful videos and photos. My favorite is Craig's wonderful video of young Bushtits huddling close. You can read the post and see the video by Clicking Here.

Craig and Dan not only show the beauty of the birds and their behavior, they also discuss what the birds require to reproduce and survive. Craig explains how having a natural yard meets many avian requirements. Craig's work inspired me to consider, What can we do to make our yards sanctuaries for birds.

One of our most popular birds is the Anna's Hummingbird. A wonderful way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is to allow native plants to flourish. There are a variety of Northwest plants, like evergreen huckleberries, which are attractive to hummingbirds. This Guideprovided by Seattle Audubon will offer you lots of options to consider.

The bird in the photo above, nested in Indian Plum, a native shrub. The nest was about six feet off the ground and yet hidden under the cover of native trees, like Big Leaf Maples and Douglas Fir. Besides having a tree or a shrub in which to nest, hummingbirds also need materials to build their nests. This bird used moss, lichen and spider's silk - to hold it all together. Maples often have horizontal moss-covered branches. It seems to me that the older trees tend to have more lichen. It is interesting how something as small as a hummingbird's nest can be dependent on such a variety of native plants, trees and even tiny creatures, like spiders. 

A Wilson's Warbler is another small beautiful bird which can often be found in Indian Plum and also in our native Salmonberry. It is a migratory bird. It arrives here in the Spring looking intently for food and nesting sites.

An American Robin is far more familiar and yet it also has specific reproductive requirements. They love to eat worms and feed them to their young. In the fall and winter I often see them eating fruit. In addition to food, robins need nesting supplies.

Last year, a robin built her nest on the downspout directly above our back door. She needed long leaves of dry grass and mud to hold it all together. With our lawn mowed regularly I am not sure where the robin found the long pieces of grass. It seems obvious now, that a perfectly trimmed lawn is not part of the optimal backyard sanctuary. Luckily, the robin found everything she needed and her young successfully fledged.

Spotted Towhees look vaguely robin-like and they also build nests of grass. Their nests are smaller so they do not need exceptionally tall grass. Since they spend the bulk of their time scratching through leaf litter looking for food, it makes sense for them to be primarily ground-nesting birds. Their biggest challenge is the fact that hungry animals can easily sniff out their nests. This week, someone suggested putting bells on pets. This sounds logical to me, especially if one is unwilling to keep them indoors. Bells might at least help the avian parents to escape.

This towhee nest in the Arboretum was directly on the ground and easily available to squirrels, raccoons and off-leash pets. I am not sure who or what scooped out the nest but these young birds did not last long. This demonstrates the great value of backyard sanctuaries. In our own fenced yards we should be able to provide better protection for nesting birds.

Dark-eyed Juncos are another grass-using, ground-nesting bird species. As you can see in this photo, they will also eat the seeds from flowering dandelions. Allowing plants in the lawn to go-to-seed is a wonderful plus for the birds. I think Craig implied we might want to let our front yards be for show and our backyard be for the birds. It sure sounds like a good idea to me.

This Dark-eyed Junco nest was located under a strawberry plant in a pot in my neighbor's yard - not quite the optimal location.

I have also seen Dark-eyed Juncos locate their nests on the ground but under leaves so the nests were completely hidden. Junco parents will catch and deliver small insects and worms to their well-hidden young. Leaving leaves under the shrubs in our flower beds not only provides nutrients for our plants, they offer foraging opportunities for the Spotted Towhees and hiding places for Dark-eyed Junco nests.

Brown Creepers generally find their food while creeping up the trunks of mature native trees, like Big Leaf Maples, Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks.

Creepers often build their nests in openings where the bark has pulled away from the trunk of the tree. Sometimes this happens to living trees but more often it happens after the trees have died. By leaving dead trees standing in our yards, we provide more potential nest sites, and not just for the Brown Creepers.

Red-breasted Nuthatches, like the one in this photo, Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and others often nest in holes excavated in the soft wood of long dead trees. This particular nest happens to be located in a dead branch of a living and native Pacific Madrone tree.

Downy Woodpeckers also love smaller dead trees for nest sites. Depending on the size of your yard, leaving larger dead trees could provide nest sites for Red-breasted Sapsuckers and Northern Flickers.

The greatest challenge along this line would be housing for Pileated Woodpeckers. So far, all six of the successful pileated nest sites which I have seen near Union Bay have been in large dead or dying Red Alder trees. Crumbling Red Alders may not be considered the ultimate in horticulture, however they could very well be the perfect indicator of a functional wildlife sanctuary.

On the other hand, maybe you are more interested in providing habitat for a colony of highly social tiny little Bushtits. You can see from this long sock-like nest that our local Bushtits require lots of moss and lots of spider silk to hold it all together.

I suspect this bare spot in the moss was created by the Bushtits as they kept returning for additional materials.

Of course, in addition to nest building supplies, Bushtits and all the other birds we have discussed require food, like this lively little worm-like creature.

It may be hard to think of a tiny little Bushtit as a predator bird, but it sure knew how to whip the 'worm' into submission. This brings us to our last major thought concerning creating a backyard wildlife sanctuary. 

If we use pesticides or herbicides in our yard, we will destroy many of the small creatures and plants upon which the birds depend for food. Also, many poisons can bio-accumulate and unintentionally kill creatures much further up the food chain. Natural approaches to pest control are critical to our wildlife sanctuaries.

You can learn even more by visiting our state's Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program. Click Here for details.

Update: The excellent Habitat Network link, recommended in the comment below, can be more easily visited by: Clicking Here.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.

Do you know this leaf? Is it native to Union Bay?

Scroll down for the next step.


It is the native tree which our local Pileated Woodpeckers seem to love and adore - once it starts to decompose. It also fixes atmospheric nitrogen to the benefit of others plants. It generally only spreads into locations where the soil has been disturbed. This means if we want Pileated Woodpeckers in the city we need to enable suitable sites for Red Alder trees.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net


  1. Thanks for advocating for restoring native habitat, one yard at a time! If anyone hasn't yet, check out Habitat Network's website http://content.yardmap.org/. You can find lots of info and assistance in reclaiming your property for wildlife, for the benefit of all.

    1. Wow! What a wonderful concept! I have added the link to my favorites. Thank you!