Wildlife Habitat Grows From The Heart

By Kevin Howell
MONON, IN– Three years ago, with little else to do but recover from his heart surgery, Bob Princell sat looking out the window of his home on Bedford Bay north of Monticello.

Watching birds, squirrels and other critters scamper about in his yard and out on the water, a growing interest in nature developed as he passed the hours away.

Today his yard is filled with plants, water ponds and feeders. Since the beginning of Princell’s fascination with the natural world and hours of research into habitats, his knowledge of attracting wildlife with his plantings has grown immensely.

“I started studying up on it and reading about it, and learned I was doing a lot of things wrong (to attract wildlife),” said Princell. He learned he was trying to be “too neat” in what he planted and how he cared for his plants.

“You need to leave stuff alone, and instead of using say bark mulch (to keep weeds down), I get natural stuff,” Princell explained.

Several of his neighbors have stands of pine trees, so each fall he grabs a rake, gathers up pine needles and uses them for mulch around his plants and flowers. That encourages more wildlife to come into his half-acre habitat. Otherwise he stays out of his landscape.

He has also quit using chemical pesticides for garden bugs, and only spot sprays for crabgrass and other noxious weeds rather than broadcast spraying over the entire yard. It helps too that a 40-acre field across the road in front is owned by the White County Historical Society.

“Instead of it being a corn field or bean field every other year, it just grows natural now, and there’s deer, quail and pheasant right across the road,” he said.

Speaking of birds, through Princell’s research and dedicated watching, from the few bird species he thought were around his property, his identifications of species has grown to nearly half a hundred since his wildlife habitat was certified.

“I’d never been interested in birds in my life and I thought there were six, or eight or 10 different kinds of birds,” Princell said chuckling. “But that winter I was recovering, right out my window I counted 41 different species of birds.”

His habitat is loaded with a variety of feeders for hummingbirds, several varieties of finches, sparrows, grackles and at least five species of woodpeckers. Last winter a pair of Bald Eagles hung out along the bay and carried fish for dinner to the top of a dead sycamore in Princell’s yard.

One feeder is not for the birds but for four-legged critters.

“On that post out there is a Christmas tree holder (stand),” Princell said pointing to a tree stand horizontally mounted to a post. “I put a glass jar where the tree would be, fill it up with thistle seed and call it squirrel under glass. Squirrels climb the post, crawl into the horizontal glass and eat away.”

A favorite landscape item is a large rock Princell found with a hollowed out area on one surface. He drilled down through the depression, placed a half of a 55-gallon plastic drum and recirculating pump in the ground and uses it as a birdbath.

Princell’s yard is filled with innovative devices and landscape structures, including three small ponds complete with lizard frogs, bull frogs, goldfish and an occasional snake– “much to my wife’s chagrin,” he said. One entire side of his house is lined with varieties of sedum that attract hundreds of butterflies in September and October.

Habitat restoration is critical in urban and suburban settings where commercial and residential development encroaches on natural wildlife areas. In addition to providing for wildlife, certified wildlife habitats conserve natural resources by reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water, which protect the air, soil and water in communities.

As for Princell’s habitat, Burnette said, “the property now attracts a variety of birds, butterflies and other wildlife while helping protect the local environment.” –Herald Journal