Thursday, July 2, 2009

Guide to Urban Wildlife

When most New Yorkers think of urban wildlife the images that tend to come to mind are those of our familiar friends the overfed pigeons and the jumbo mutant city rats. Let us not forget our very near, though not so dear neighbors the roach, water bug, and bedbug. These are not the examples of city wildlife that I intend to devote this blog entry to, however. New York City is actually home to a plethora of lovely creatures, which you’d actually like to have hanging around your yard or patio, so let me start this guide with the smallest of these often inconspicuous city residents.

Pleasant Insects –
No one is freaked out by bugs more than me and yet there are a few insects that even I adore. There is of course everyone’s favorite the Ladybug. Not only are Ladybugs friendly, they don’t sting or bite, nor will they nibble on your vegetables or flowers, and they even prey on insects that do feed off plants. Beauty and utility all rolled up into one bug, what’s not to love.
At first sight Fireflies can be off-putting. When not glowing they tend to look like regular beetles, which tend to creep me out, but once the sun begins to set, these bugs are a wonder to behold. Sadly I’ve been noticing for several years now that I don’t see as many fireflies as I used to and I’ve been wondering if somethings wrong. I’ll diligently keep an eye out for them this summer and hopefully they’ll make a comeback.
My favorite city insect by far, however, is the butterfly. Here in N.Y.C. we have a myriad of gorgeous butterflies such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Small Tortoiseshell and if you plant plenty of sweet smelling flowers and herbs you can have them visiting all summer long. Personally, I have found that the butterflies in my neighborhood love the herb Ruda. It’s a very popular herb, considered to be good luck (butterflies are also considered good luck as well) and the plant can be found in many ethnic markets throughout the City in the early months of spring. Be sure to plant it in your yard or in a container and you’ll be sure to attract many of these pleasant insects.

Song Birds –
In the summer, when I’m not hearing the sound of someone’s car alarm going off in the wee hours of the morning, I’m actually being serenaded by the various song birds that hang out in the tree in my backyard. There are several of them and they look as beautiful as they sing. In N.Y.C. you can find Cardinals which are small birds of an electric red color, as well as Blue Jays which are larger and of an exquisite blue and grey color. The best singers of them all, however, are the Mockingbirds. Though, they are not as colorful as the Cardinals and Blue Jays, being of a grayish color instead, their songs are much livelier and they can sing for hours on end. These birds, unlike the more common Sparrows, don’t like just any birdseed. These birds really prefer sunflower seeds, so if you would like to attract them, you want to get the bags of bird food which contain these seeds along with the smaller seeds. Of course bags of bird foods which cater to the sophisticated tastes of the songbirds tend to be more expensive, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Squirrels –
I tend to have a love-hate relationship with squirrels. I think they’re adorable, but they WILL EAT EVERYTHING you plant in your garden or in an outdoor container. They’ll eat tulip bulbs right from underneath the ground, they LOVE eggplants and peppers and I haven’t met a plant seed they won’t dig up and eat. With that said, if you do enjoy having them around, place a few nuts (still in they’re shells, squirrels love a good challenge) in a pile in your yard or patio and keep an eye out for the ever elusive Black Squirrels. I’ve only seen two of these; one that lives in Forest Park and another one that lives in my Parish yard. They might be the same squirrel, however, since I’ve never seen them both on the same day…the jury’s still out.

Outdoor Cats –
Well keeping an outdoor cat isn’t really an option unless you have a warm place somewhere on your property where he/or she can live in during the cold winter months. I, however, always have a cat living in my backyard shed. Right now we’ve got Pancho, a black cat whose been living in our yard for about 3 years now. Pancho is one of several cats we’ve had and he’s certainly lasted the longest. We had a few tail-less cats, but one of them was found run over by a car close by our house one day and another one left the yard one day to run an errand never came back. Pancho, however, is practically family now. He has his own bed and an insulated box for the cold winter months and we feed him everyday. Some things to keep in mind if you decide to go this route: If you have a cat that you’ve set up an outdoor home for, beware of other cats who might try to beat your cat up and take his/her place. In such cases, be sure to have a trusty broom in hand. Also if you have a male cat (like I do), you definitely want to keep an eye out for any lady felines that are looking to shack up with your male cat and start popping out kittens. Once again keep a trusty broom handy and listen for the unmistakable sounds of a cat in heat (trust me, you can’t miss it). He might be bummed out at first, but he’ll thank you for it later.

- Sincerely
Maria Isabel Olivera

P.S. If you’re the sort of person who likes lizards and wants to see them somewhere other then at a Zoo, head to Queens College. They have tiny green lizards that like to hang out by the water fountain. Rumor has it they were lab lizards which escaped from the Science building. I also saw a jumbo mutant Praying Mantis heading towards Jefferson Hall, which I also assume escaped from the Science Building…but you didn’t hear it from me.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: De-plastic-ifying your life

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