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On The Trail: Mike's Backyard Park is starting to bloom with signs of spring

  • Mike's bird sanctuary is starting to color up now that spring is approaching.

    Mike's bird sanctuary is starting to color up now that spring is approaching.
    Courtesy of Mike Baltz

  • Young bulbs are pushing through the dirt so the flowers can turn to the sun.

    Young bulbs are pushing through the dirt so the flowers can turn to the sun.
    Courtesy of Mike Baltz

  • Who will take over the birdhouse this spring?

    Who will take over the birdhouse this spring?
    Courtesy of Mike Baltz

By Mike Baltz
Contributing writer
updated: 3/13/2022 7:44 PM

I'm taking another break from my series of articles about the Shawnee National Forest, this time to give you an update from my Backyard Park!

Spring has sprung in southern Illinois and spring nature things are beginning to happen.

Some of the birds, like robins and cardinals, have started singing, the daffodils have started blooming and soon, there will be wildflowers galore along the trail at Green Earth's Chautauqua Bottoms Preserve and along the Trillium Trail at Giant City State Park.

Life is returning to my "backyarden" as well. And I'm anxious to see green again and to hear the morning chorus of bird song from my back deck.

Not to brag, but my yard is officially a National Wildlife Federation "Certified Wildlife Habitat."

Yards can earn that distinction when applicants confirm that their yards provide food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise young. Additionally, applicants must use sustainable gardening practices. For more information about certifying your yard, visit

My yard is also unofficially part of what author Doug Tallamy has called the Backyard National Park. In his book, "Nature's Best Hope," Tallamy notes that if each American landowner made it a goal to convert half of his or her lawn to native plant communities, then we could restore more than 20 million acres of what is now ecological wasteland.

The rewards of having wildlife habitat in your backyard are numerous and there are real conservation benefits to creating backyard habitat, too.

Of course, it's difficult to quantify the value of having wildlife in your yard. But a recent German study concluded that having high species diversity in your immediate surroundings provided life satisfaction equivalent to a $2,000 pay raise.

Personally, I think my backyard park is just about priceless.

Certainly, for the birds, bees, and bunnies, trying to make a living in your neighborhood, the habitat that your yard can provide can be priceless, too, as in a matter of life-or-death.

Native tree species, like oaks, for example, are host to significantly more insects than nonnative plant species. Obviously, that's good news for insects, all of which are important parts of healthy ecosystems. But native bird species also rely on those insects to feed their young during the summer. So, more insects mean more baby birds.

And I'm excited to report that the Backyard Park idea is spreading in my neighborhood.

Recently, I noticed that my next-door neighbor had also registered her yard as Certified Wildlife Habitat, so now there are signs in both of our yards!

Another neighbor couple just bought a dozen plus wooded acres in the neighborhood, and they have enrolled in a Beginning Forest Landowner program being offered by the University of Illinois Extension Forestry.

The husband texted me recently with the exciting news. "Hopefully," he said, "we can begin the journey to a backyard park!"

• If you have questions about the Beginning Forest Landowner program, contact Extension Forester Chris Evans at

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