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Finding Backyard Bliss During the Pandemic

By Dr. Marianne Walch

A Baltimore oriole eating grape jelly and oranges in Marianne Walch’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

In March 2020, the Center’s office was closed due to the pandemic, and telework and Zoom meetings became the work life of our staff. I particularly missed my office window’s daily view of the Indian River Inlet and Delaware Seashore State Park beaches. Then I realized I had a different way to enjoy a great view from my very own backyard.

So I installed a total of eleven bird feeders close to my home office window. Those feeders, and the many species visiting them, helped keep me (and my two cats) engaged and entertained during the 14 long months of working alone from home.

I’m a lifelong birder and have always had multiple feeders. But this past year was the first chance I’ve had to closely observe the feeder stations and their visitors all day, every day. It became a daily gift, and I quickly realized that incredible things were happening in my backyard all along. I had just been missing them while enjoying my more coastal views at the office.

Since spring 2020, I’ve watched waves of seasonal migrants pass through my yard, taken pleasure in the 2020 ‘irruption’ visits of more typically northern birds such as Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks, and delighted in watching families of recently fledged Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, and Carolina Chickadees being fed from the feeders by their parents. A pair of Mallard ducks regularly visited to gobble up corn I had put out for the squirrels. Titmice and Blue Jays clamoured greedily for peanuts. A variety of colorful migrating warblers stopped by for suet. And Baltimore Orioles, Gray Catbirds, and even a Red-Bellied Woodpecker (!) consumed multiple bags of oranges. A Red-Shouldered Hawk showed up from time to time, more interested in the squirrels than in the birds.

I kept records of the birds I saw from my window and shared my observations with the Project Feederwatch citizen science program managed by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. I counted 48 different species visiting the feeders, bird baths, and backyard vegetation that can be seen from my home office window. 

I live on a ⅓-acre lot in an older, wooded suburban neighborhood near Millsboro. I chose the property because of the trees. Sadly, many of the forested areas that surrounded my community when I moved here have since disappeared–along with birds that depended on them such as Chuck-wills-widows and Wood Thrushes. That makes my little patch of woods and native plant gardens all the more precious, both for me and for the wildlife. I’m proud that it’s been recognized as a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat for about 17 years.

  • Gray squirrels having a feast in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Cope's gray treefrog in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A female house finch on a window feeder in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Tiger swallowtail on joe pye weed in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • An Eastern spadefoot in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Newly fledged blue jays in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Fledgling eastern bluebirds, with dad on the left, in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A brown thrasher and a European starling in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • An eastern bluebird in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A red-bellied woodpecker eating an orange in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A red-bellied woodpecker eating an orange in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A gray catbird eating grape jelly in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A rose-breasted grosbeak in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A house wren in a nesting box in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A house wren on a nesting box in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A white-throated sparrow in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A female purple finch in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Gray squirrel in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A Baltimore oriole eating grape jelly and oranges in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A mourning dove in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A Mallard pair in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A yellow-throated warbler in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Eastern bluebird on suet and a Baltimore oriole in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A yellow-rumped warbler in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A pileated woodpecker in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A red-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, and Baltimore oriole enjoying the birdfeeders in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Gray squirrel in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Male Eastern Bluebird in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Bumblebee on purple coneflower in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • A garden spider in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.


My yard intentionally has a natural, relatively unmanicured look, which I find peaceful and beautiful. The plants provide food and habitat for wildlife. The trees in my yard include a good mix of oaks, hickories, holly, sweet gum, sassafras, dogwood, red maple, sycamore, pines, and eastern red cedar that were here when I arrived. I’ve worked to preserve these, along with the native shrubs and wildflowers that grew naturally, including highbush blueberries, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, devil’s walking stick, spotted wintergreen, and pink lady’s slippers. I’ve planted new native shrubs such as oak leaf hydrangea, pinxter azaleas, sweet pepperbush, and American beautyberry. And I’ve added many native ferns, vines, and flowers to attract pollinators. One of my favorites is the native red honeysuckle, which is a hummingbird magnet! 

Red native honeysuckle in Marianne Walch’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat.


It doesn’t take much to turn your yard into a great wildlife habitat: if you plant it, they will come! Over the years, I’ve seen or heard in own my backyard: at least 77 species of birds, 8 species of frogs and toads, 6 species of reptiles, 9 species of wild mammals (including flying squirrels!), and countless varieties of butterflies and moths, bees, and other insects. 

Making even small changes to your property to provide food and habitat for wildlife is rewarding, educational, and good for our Bays and their watershed. To learn more about how you can garden for the Bays and the species that depend on them, check out our tips and resources at inlandbays.org/gardening.

  • Oak leaf hydrangeas in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Native honeysuckle in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Pink lady's slipper in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Pinxter azalea in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Bumblebees on bee balm in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Coreopsis in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Spores on Christmas fern in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • White blazing star and pink achillea in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Garden phlox in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Bumblebee on purple coneflower in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Oak leaf hydrangeas and a hummingbird feeder in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Fothergilla bush in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Arrowwood viburnum in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Bumblebees on sweet pepperbush in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Red native honeysuckle in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
  • Butterfly weed
    Butterfly weed in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

 

About the Author

Dr. Marianne Walch

Dr. Marianne Walch is the CIB’s Estuary Science and Restoration Coordinator. In this position she leads the Center’s research, monitoring, and aquatic ecosystem restoration efforts. Marianne brings 30 years of environmental research experience in academic, federal and state government positions to the Center.

Outside of her CIB job, Marianne is Associate Director of the Silver Lotus Training Institute, where she teaches tai chi and yoga programs and trains instructors. She serves as Vice President and webmaster of the U.S. Tai Chi for Health Community. Marianne also enjoys her cats, photography and art, birding, native plant gardening, hiking and kayaking.


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