Takoma Park Crosses Finish Line in Race to Become
First MD Community Wildlife Habitat

With assistance from the Friends of Sligo Creek and the Takoma Horticulture Club, the City of Takoma Park has met the requirements of the National Wildlife Federation’s ® certification for a Community Wildlife Habitat ™. The requirements are straight-forward and can be found at www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife. The NWF has certified 50 communities in 20 states. Takoma Park is the first certified in Maryland, but Rockville and Bowie are working on their certification.

On May 22, 2011, an enthusiastic throng gathered at Spring Park in Takoma Park to see the presentation of a certificate from the National Wildlife Federation to Mayor Bruce Williams honoring the City as a Community Wildlife Habitat. The surrounding festivities included music by voice and baritone saxophone, a poem read by the City Poet Laureate, Anne Becker, spreading of magic mulch on three young possum-haw shrubs; and necessary short speeches by Roxanne Paul of the National Wildlife Federation, and by former Friends’ president, Bruce Sidwell. Refreshments provided by the Friends of Sligo included a really beautiful butterfly encrusted cake and Sarah’s World Famous Garlic Mustard Pesto.
View a photo album created from the presentation.

Back in 1973, the National Wildlife Federation began a Backyard Wildlife Habitat certification program. They realized that many native species would have a better chance of surviving if suburban and urban yards were more wildlife-friendly. There are now more than 128,000 yards, schools, businesses, places of worship, parks, and other sites certified across the country. The qualities that make a yard attractive to birds, butterflies, and other welcome native wildlife are:

  1. food (seeds, berries, nectar, foliage, nuts, fruits, sap, and pollen);
  2. water (such as a birdbath);
  3. shelter from the weather and predators; and
  4. places to raise young

The NWF program expanded the habitat concept to community certification at the beginning of this decade. At this level, a community of habitats can provide a broader safety net. And also, the human community can enjoy and better understand local wildlife. To meet the standard for Community Wildlife Habitat, a city the size of Takoma Park needs a minimum of 4 schools, 4 other public spaces, and 150 backyards to be certified. We now have the schools and public spaces, but we are short on yards. By the way, one particularly nice example of the City-sponsored park sites is the Spring Park at the intersection of Elm and Poplar. A nice selection of native shrubs and a River Birch were paid for from a grant from the Takoma Foundation (see photo).

With your application, the NWF asks for $20 to defray the costs of their program. However, in return, you’ll receive the satisfaction of being better equipped to help our beleagered wildlife. You’ll also receive a certificate, a quarterly e-newsletter with tips, and a one-year subscription to National Wildlife.

Common Questions About the Program (There is considerable advice to be found at the NWF website, but here are a few frequently heard questions we’ve heard):

  1. Will mosquitoes breed in bird baths?

    To develop from eggs to adults, mosquitoes require at least five days, so rinsing out the water at least once a week should prevent a problem. Incidentally, encouraging insect-eating birds like wrens and hummingbirds, as well as toads, frogs, or bats to hang around should help keep down the mosquito population in check.

  2. Do I need to have native plants?

    Native plants fit best with native birds, butterflies, and other critters. This is because for thousands of years the plants and animals co-evolved to meet each others’ needs. For example, some butterflies will only lay their eggs on certain plant species (e.g., Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed exclusively on plants of the milkweed family). However, the NWF does not require that your yard be natives since many native animals do ok with non-native plants, especially for shelter and food.

  3. Where can I get native plants?

    The Maryland Native Plant Society lists places to buy plants on their website (www.mdflora.org). These include nurseries as well as many special sales.

  4. Do feeders attract rats?

    This is occasionally a problem if there is too much spillage accumulating on the ground. Controlling spillage and ground cover plants where rodents can hide near feeders help a lot. Feeders are fun to have, especially for hummingbirds and goldfinches, but they are not required for certification.

  5. What about cats in my yard?

    Generally, cats and wildlife are not a good mix (for the wildlife). Some well-fed old cats are no problem for birds, but we’ve all seen the cartoons…. The NWF does not require that your yard be cat-free, but it’s something to think about. We have heard that use of squirtguns is effective against unwelcome neighbor cats, but we do not endorse any particular method.