Turn Your Backyard into a Wildlife Sanctuary

As spring finally arrives, our neighborhoods are quickly coming back to life after a long winter’s slumber. Each morning we wake up to birds singing outside our windows and wildlife stirring from their winter hideouts as they venture out in search of food and companionship. We have an important role in their success as we own and care for much of the space they call home.

Our yards are becoming increasingly important sanctuaries for native wildlife. With open spaces quickly dwindling to new subdivisions, commercial buildings and parking lots, there is little left for the species who have always lived here. By sharing our backyards with birds, pollinators, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, we’re keeping the ecosystem intact and benefiting all species, including ourselves.

Birds, amphibians and bats all help keep the insect population in control, making our summer afternoons more enjoyable without constantly swatting away mosquitos and other winged nuisances. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, provide us with beautiful flowers and are responsible for fertilizing crops, ultimately producing one out of every three bites of food we eat. Snakes eat insects and small rodents, keeping populations in control and out of our sheds, garages and homes. To keep these natural systems in balance, we need to minimize our impact on their daily routines.

It’s relatively easy to create an oasis for wildlife while we continue to enjoy our outdoor space. Last spring, DZS staff planned and prepared a Backyards for Wildlife site near the Detroit Zoo’s American Coney Island to demonstrate how simple projects in our backyards can have a positive impact for wildlife. Volunteers from the Ford Motor Company helped to plant a variety of native flowers, grasses and shrubs in the area, and laid a wood chip path to lead guests into the space, which will soon be full of blooming flowers and busy pollinators.

In preparation for GreenFest on April 27, the site will be enhanced with signage that suggests simple things homeowners can do in their yards. These tips include:

Install rain barrels on downspouts. Collecting rain to irrigate lawns and gardens can save homeowners as much as $35 a month on summer water bills.

Keep your cat indoors to save songbirds. Wildlife biologists estimate that as many as one in every 10 songbirds are killed by domestic cats. Keeping cats indoors may also prevent the spread of many feline illnesses.

Install a bat house. Before you call an exterminator to spray for unwanted mosquitos, consider installing a bat house. A bat can eat up to a thousand mosquitos in a single evening!

Build a birdhouse. A birdhouse can be a fun project to build and paint with children. It will provide a safe shelter for birds raising their young.

Incorporate native plants in your landscape. Native plants require less water and care than introduced species, they come back year-after-year and are important food sources for birds, butterflies and other pollinators. Even if you live in an apartment and only have a balcony, a potted plant or small window box can provide many of these same benefits to native wildlife. For suggestions on where to buy native plants, visit https://detroitzoo.org/who/ and select the “Certify Your Habitat” dropdown.

Our Backyards for Wildlife site is a place for learning and enjoyment for humans, and a great example of how our personal choices can make a positive difference for our non-human neighbors. Join us at GreenFest on April 27, to learn more as we celebrate Earth Day with demonstrations from our Green Team, conservation education, citizen science projects and exhibits by local conservation groups.

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Toss Out Your Old Spring-Cleaning Routine and Bring in the Green

The grass may always be greener, but you can be too! As you begin your annual spring-cleaning routine, consider making some changes that will impact the environment in a positive way. Some simple modifications will help keep your home fresh and clutter-free while also creating a sustainable future for people and animals. From choosing the right cleaning products to watching your water usage, here are some helpful tips you can adopt to clean the green way:

Purchase environmentally friendly cleaning products. Popular cleaning products often contain chemicals that are harmful to you and the environment. Next time you purchase your spring-cleaning necessities, double check the ingredients for harsh chemicals, including phthalates or triclosan, which can poison our bodies and our aquatic ecosystems. Phthalates can cause disruptions in our endocrine system while triclosan is an antibacterial that kills algae in more than half of the streams in the U.S. Instead, look for eco-friendly, plant-based products. They offer the same cleaning benefits with less risk to our health and the Earth’s water.

Make your own cleaning products. Save money and the environment by creating homemade soaps and disinfectants – it’s easier than you might think. There are many simple recipes you can follow to clean your bathrooms, floors, counters and cabinets. Try substituting chemical-filled cleansers with white vinegar or baking soda and water. Adding a couple drops of essential oil to your natural concoctions produces a great scent and has cleaning benefits of its own. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant; peppermint and lemon also have natural and powerful cleaning agents and they will leave your home smelling fresh.

Declutter clothing and household items the right way. Channel your inner Marie Kondo while sorting through old clothes and instead of throwing these items away, toss them into the hands of someone who might find your trash as their treasure! You can gather your items and have a garage sale or donate them to charity. This eliminates waste in our landfills and you could earn some extra cash. But if you do decide to toss some items, there are environmentally friendly ways to do so. Recycle or reuse what you can to try to eliminate as much waste as possible.

Watch your water usage. We can accidentally waste a lot of water by leaving the faucet on longer than is necessary. By being conscious of this, we can help preserve this important resource. When cleaning areas of your house, a bucket full of water works to rinse out the mop or rag and uses far less water than taking it to the tub. These few changes can help you not only save water, but also your hard-earned dollars!

Purify the air with houseplants. Not only are plants beautiful décor, they can also purify the air and provide health benefits to those who reside in the home. Houseplants reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our homes while also keeping air temperatures down. They even eliminate dust levels, making spring-cleaning a little easier! Having plants around us creates a sense of comfort and lowers stress levels, too.

Together, we can make small changes to our yearly spring-cleaning routine that can make a huge difference in our lives and the lives of Earth’s wonderful creatures. By incorporating these few tips and tricks, we can take another step forward on our Green Journey and help create eco-friendly communities. Spring is in the air, but harmful chemicals don’t have to be.

Detroit Zoological Society’s Online Resource Center Expands Knowledge of Animal Welfare and Ethics

When the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) created the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics (CZAAWE), one of the main goals was to increase the knowledge about the welfare of animals living in the care of humans. We developed an online resource center, which is regularly updated, to ensure as much information about animal welfare and ethics can be easily found. Dr. Matt Heintz, an animal welfare research associate for the DZS, stays up to date on newly published articles and is responsible for growing this incredible resource.

The database now contains more than 7,000 references, with some dating back as far as 1932. It represents a broad range of topics as the expansive field of animal welfare continues to grow. Users can search for specific topics, species and authors. Each entry includes a summary of the publication and a link to where the full article can be found. Some are made freely available to anyone by the journal publishers, while others may require a fee or access through subscriptions. The CZAAWE online resource center and the searches that can be performed are entirely free, as access to knowledge is important in our collective efforts to better understand animal welfare and ethics. This database has proven to be a valuable resource and in just the last four years, it has been accessed more than ten thousand times by people in 102 countries.

Dr. Heintz analyzed the database to look for trends in the literature and to help identify gaps in the knowledge currently available. Although a wide breadth of welfare topics are represented, much of the published literature is focused on mammalian species. This tells us that more research needs to center on amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates and reptiles. He also found a fun way to visually represent the trends using a word cloud image. The terms that are more commonly found in the references are shown in a larger font.

The goal of increasing knowledge about animal welfare and ethics is an important one and we will continue to dedicate ourselves to increasing the usefulness and accessibility of this resource. If you want to learn more about animal welfare and ethics, we encourage you to check out the online resource center, which can be found at www.czaw.org/resources. The more we know, the more we can contribute to promoting great animal welfare.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics.