Nature isn’t just “out there” in some pristine or far-off location. It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Join us as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat.
Bats and Bat Houses
Bats are often associated with Halloween and relegated to roles in scary movies, but they are so much more. Bats are very diverse and fascinating creatures that play an invaluable role in our ecosystem. I love the fact that more people seem to be recognizing this and wanting to do things like put up bat houses and make their yards more bat friendly.
In this episode, I talk with Reed Crawford. Reed is a PhD student in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is studying bats and how they thermoregulate. His research has lots of implications for how we can make our bat houses safer for and more attractive to bats.
Reed and I start out talking about some of the common myths we hear about bats and the many threats that bats face. We then move on to discuss how bats need roosting spots with different conditions depending on factors like the time of year and the reproductive stage of the bat. The temperature of the site throughout the day and night is one of those important conditions, especially for moms and their young (pups).
Unfortunately, sometimes our bat houses can provide nice, warm, attractive conditions for mother bats to raise their young, but on our really warm summer days can get too hot and potentially kill the bats. Part of Reed’s research is looking at different modifications we can make to bat houses to make them safer for the bats. We talk about many of those modifications including a different style of bat house called a rocket box, that doesn’t look like the flat boxes that are commonly sold as bat houses.
In addition to Reed’s research, we talked about suggestions for putting up a bat house and improving the bat habitat around our homes. One of the questions Reed and I both commonly get in regards to bat houses, is “Why aren’t bats using the bat house that I put up?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to that question. It often depends on a number of different factors. But, hopefully Reed’s research and those of others pursuing similar questions, will help us give more solid answers to that question in the future.
Reed’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org Websites Reed Recommends: Tips for making bat boxes safer for bats - https://wildlife.nres.illinois.edu/tips-for-making-bat-boxes-safer-for-bats/ Human-Wildlife Interactions Lab - https://wildlife.nres.illinois.edu/ Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation - https://www.indstate.edu/cas/isubatcenter Bat Conservation International - https://www.batcon.org/ Research Papers Reed Recommends: Avoiding a conservation pitfall: Considering the risks of unsuitably hot bat boxes - https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/csp2.412 In artificial roost comparison, bats show preference for rocket box style - https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0205701 Surface reflectance drives nest box temperature profiles and thermal suitability for target wildlife - https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176951 Backyard Ecology’s website - https://backyardecology.net My email: email@example.com
Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) Photo credit: USGS, public domain
Winter Hummingbirds in the Eastern U.S.
We always think of hummingbirds as being summer birds. But, did you know that we also have winter hummingbirds? They aren’t common, and they become less common the further you are from the southern coastal plains; however, they aren’t unique either. In the winter of 2011-2012, I was lucky enough to host one of these winter hummingbirds at my home in Kentucky.
In this Backyard Ecology episode, I talk with Brainard Palmer-Ball about these winter hummingbirds. Brainard is a retired zoologist from the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves. He’s also the person who captured and banded my winter hummingbird in 2011.
In the eastern U.S., our winter hummingbirds aren’t the familiar ruby-throated hummingbirds that we see all summer. Instead, most of the hummingbirds that overwinter in the eastern U.S. are western species. There are a handful of western species that sometimes spend the winter in the eastern U.S., but the most common one is the rufous hummingbird.
It is thought that we probably always had a few winter hummingbirds, but we just didn’t notice them. Then as hummingbird feeding increased in popularity in the 80s and 90s, more available food sources and more eyes watching those food sources meant that we became more aware of this phenomenon. These food sources aren’t drawing the winter hummingbirds or encouraging them to overwinter where they shouldn’t, but they are potentially improving survival chances during the worst parts of our winters.
In our conversation, Brainard and I talk in more detail about our winter hummingbirds, how they aren’t “lost,” as was once thought, and how they survive through the winter. We also discuss the importance of feeders and tackle the question of whether leaving our feeders up, or putting them back out for late hummingbirds, is a good thing. In addition, we talk about banding hummingbirds and what can be learned from that process. Of course, Brainard also shares with us what we need to think about and do if we are lucky enough to have one of these winter hummingbirds show up at our homes.
Operation Ruby Throat Hummingbird Research, Inc. Southeastern Avian Research Report a bird band Hummer’s Heated Delight Backyard Ecology’s website My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rufous hummingbird that Brainard banded in Kentucky. Photo credit: Brainard Palmer-Ball, all rights reserved
Acorns, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, and More: Responses to Forest Disturbances
What happens when you do a shelterwood cut, conduct a prescribed burn, or have some other natural or human-made disturbance event in oak hickory forests? What happens to the acorn crop? How do different types of wildlife respond? What about the other vegetation in the woods?
In this Backyard Ecology episode I talk with Dr. Cathryn Greenberg. Katie is a Research Ecologist with the US Forest Service, Southern Research Station. She has been involved in multiple long-term studies looking at how different species, or groups of animals, respond to forest disturbances, both natural disturbances (wind, wildfires, etc.) and human-created disturbances (logging, prescribed burns, etc.). These forest disturbances can cause openings in the closed canopy of mature forests or may be more low-grade and not have much of an impact on the canopy.
Two aspects that make Katie’s research unique are:
she and her colleagues have taken more of an ecological approach and studied the responses of many different types of organisms instead of focusing on only one type, and her studies are long-term projects that in many cases last 10-20 years.
We talked about a wide variety of topics including how forest disturbances such as shelterwood cuts can affect acorn production. We also discussed the impacts of different types of forest disturbances on breeding songbirds populations and diversity, as well as, on reptile and amphibian populations. We even took a side tangent to discuss a long-term study she and her colleagues have conducted looking at amphibian use of ephemeral pools in Florida.
One important concept to recognize from her research is that forest disturbances don’t affect all species the same, even within the same general “group,” such as songbirds. Some may benefit from the disturbances; some not-so-much, at least temporarily. Like with anything else, there isn’t a one-size-fits- all answer. We wrap up with Katie reminding us how important it is to know our goals and what we are trying to accomplish with our land management.
Katie’s email: email@example.com Summaries / Compass Live articles about Katie’s research Books that Katie has edited Natural Disturbances and Historic Range of Variation: Type, Frequency, Severity, and Post-disturbance Structure in Central Hardwood Forests USA Hardcover * Kindle * Sustaining Young Forest Communities: Ecology and Management of early successional habitats in the central hardwood region, USA Hardcover * Kindle * Chapter 8: The role of young, recently disturbed upland hardwood forest as high quality food patches (free) Backyard Ecology’s website More than a Mud Puddle: The Exciting World of Vernal Pools My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
White oak acorns. Photo credit: Paul Wray, Bugwood.org, cc-by 3.0
A Conversation with the Co-Hosts of the Native Plants, Healthy Planet Podcast
Sometimes it’s just fun to sit down and have a fun conversation with other people in the industry, and that’s exactly what we did in this episode of the Backyard Ecology podcast. In this episode, I talk with Fran Chismar and Tom Knezick. Fran is the Sultan of Sales for Pinelands Nursery and the co-host of the Native Plants, Healthy Planet Podcast. Tom is the General Manager at Pinelands Nursery, the owner of Pinelands Direct Native Plants, and the other co-host of the Native Plants, Healthy Planet Podcast.
This was a very fun, relaxed, free-form conversation that covered a wide variety of topics related to native plants, the native plant industry, and gardening with native plants among other things. We all enjoyed hearing the perspectives and stories of someone from a different part of the country because Tom and Fran are in New Jersey, while I’m located in Kentucky.
Many parts of our conversation came back to the shared belief that we need to make space for everyone in the native plant community. We don’t all need to have the same knowledge levels or goals. One person may be completely new to the world of native plants, while someone else may have decades of experience. Another person may be interested in growing native plants for pollinators, while someone else may be planting fields of native plants to improve quail habitat. There are a million different entry points and levels of involvement, and that’s ok. We’re all working towards the same overall goals, and we can accomplish so much more together, than any of us can on our own.
We also discussed some of the challenges associated with obtaining native plants as a consumer and growing native plants for a nursery. Later, our conversation turned towards common questions that we get asked, such as “What is a native plant?” and the flipside of that question, “What is an invasive plant?” While on the surface, both those answers may seem simple, the more we dig into them, the more complicated the answers become. We agreed that we don’t have the answers, and nobody really does, but that it’s important to be having these conversations and asking these questions.
Our conversation continued to twist and turn as we talked about how important it is to give kids the opportunity to connect with nature and shared our own childhood memories of spending time outside. We covered a lot of ground and a lot of different topics in this conversation, and I encourage everyone to check out the Native Plants, Healthy Planet podcast to hear more from Tom and Fran.
Native Plant / Healthy Planet Podcast Website Facebook page Pinelands Nursery Website Facebook page Pinelands Direct Website Facebook page Backyard Ecology’s website My email: email@example.com
Bumble bee on purple coneflower Photo credit: Brian Martin, CC-0
Factors that Make Pollinator Gardens More Attractive to Pollinators
Pollinator gardens have rapidly increased in popularity, but unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of research on the best ways to create those gardens or on how effective those gardens really are. Happily, that’s beginning to change. More and more scientists are beginning to tackle those types of questions in order to help us better manage and protect the pollinators in our built environments.
In this episode of the Backyard Ecology Podcast, we talk with Travis Watson. Travis is the Horticulture Manager at East Tennessee State University. He also recently completed his thesis research on the types of factors make pollinator gardens more attractive to pollinators.
Travis and I talk about his research and some of his findings that stood out. One of potentially the most comforting findings to many people is that size didn’t really matter. His largest study sites had proportionately the same number of insect pollinators as his smallest study sites. The types of pollinators present may have changed, but overall insect abundance was proportionally similar between all sites. This means that no matter how small your property is, you can still do something to support pollinators.
Another key finding in his research was the importance of floral diversity. Having diverse flower families, species, colors, shapes, sizes, and bloom times all contributed to greater pollinator diversity and attractiveness. Travis attributes this to the fact that with greater floral diversity, the odds increase that you’ll be “inviting a pollinator specialist to the table” without excluding any of the generalist species that would be there anyways. However, we also discuss that this shouldn’t be taken to the extreme of trying to plant a single individual of a bunch of different species. You still need multiples of each species. As with most things in life, it is important to find that happy medium.
Our conversation covers a wide range of other topics related to his research and ways that we can apply his findings in our own gardens and yards. We end with him offering suggestions for other ways that you can get involved and make a difference, even if you don’t have land of your own.
Travis’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org Travis’s thesis Not All Pollinator Gardens are Created Equally: Determining Factors Pertinent to Improving Pollinator Garden Effectiveness Other online resources Travis recommends Xerces Society Pollinator Partnership Backyard Ecology’s website Related episodes Flower Flies or Hover Flies: Bee Mimic Extraordinaires Wasps: Victims of an Often Undeserved Reputation My email: email@example.com
Pollinator garden Photo credit: Eileen Hornbaker, USFWS, public domain
NRCS Programs for Pollinators and Wildlife
If you listen to the Backyard Ecology podcast, then you are likely interested in creating pollinator and/or wildlife habitat on at least part of your property. The Natural Resources Conservation Service or NRCS is a federal agency that has a number of programs which can help us do just that. Previously, NRCS programs and services were restricted to people with 10 acres or more, but that is no longer the case.
In this episode of the Backyard Ecology Podcast, we talk with Randall Alcorn. Randall is a Private Lands Biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and an NRCS Area Liaison. (The NRCS is a federal agency, but in some states like Kentucky, they partner closely with the state fish and wildlife agency.)
During our conversation, Randall tells us about several NRCS programs including cost-share programs for pollinator habitat, timber stand improvement, invasive species management, early successional growth habitat, edge feathering, wetland conservation easements, riparian corridors, stream bank mitigation, ephemeral pools, and shallow wetlands. Some of these NRCS programs have a more regional scope, while others have a national scope.
Randall and I also talked about who to contact if you are interested in finding out more about the NRCS programs available in your area. Additionally, Randall walked us through a general timeline of what to expect if you apply for an NRCS program and how that works from a practical standpoint, including options for those who may have difficulty financing everything upfront before receiving the cost-share reimbursement.
How to receive conservation assistance from NRCS NRCS website Resources for our Kentucky listeners Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Kentucky’s NRCS page Backyard Ecology’s website Related podcast episodes More than a Mud Puddle: The Exciting World of Vernal Pools Native Seed Production and Tips for Starting a New Native Plant Garden or Restoration Area Conserving our Southeastern Grasslands with Dwayne Estes My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Part of an NRCS planting in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Photo credit: Bob Nichols, NRCS, public domain
What a nice show.
I enjoy sitting in the evenings and listening to the pleasing conversations.
Fun, friendly and factual!
A great podcast for native plant nerds and newbies alike! Lots of great information from knowledgeable guests and hosts and just enough chit chat to make a fun and friendly listen. I appreciate the emphasis on expanding and connecting the universe of native plant loving gardeners and conservation organizations. Keep up the great work… our planet needs more people and podcasts like this!
Great guests who know their stuff. This is a terrific podcast for adults who are curious about their nearby wildlife and for kids to learn out supplement science classes.