wildlife in the food forest


The visiting Cooper’s hawk – check out his jewelry.

Converting the monoculture of my front lawn into a more diverse ecosystem was one of my goals when we started building a food forest last year. For wildlife we took a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy that has worked. Bees and ladybugs quickly moved in as soon as there were flowers, and spiders have spun their webs everywhere. Little birds now hunt for food among the trees and plants – juncos, golden crown sparrows, and fox sparrows find meals on the ground while the Anna’s hummingbird that calls our yard home frequents the flowers, especially the currently blooming broccoli.

A couple of days ago I spotted something new – a Cooper’s hawk was perched on the top bar of our not-deer-proof fortification intently watching the old laurel bush by our deck. The laurel bush is covered with berries I suspect are toxic but the neighbourhood robins had taken to feasting on them (based on the droppings on the deck, the berries appear to disagreeing with the robins digestive systems). Hundreds of robins were flocking to the bush and capturing the hawk’s attention. Cooper’s hawks regularly eat robins and this one had figured out a trick.

Every now and then some robins would spook and fly off. The dumb ones flew low into the fortification netting. Bird panic ensued as they discovered their path was blocked, as the robins frantically looked for a way out the hawk would swoop in. I didn’t see him catch his dinner, but I’m sure in time his method would be successful.


My visiting hawk is the one on the far left (photo by Andy Stewart)

I took a couple pictures of the small raptor since he was distracted enough to let me get close. When I showed the pictures to my husband we noticed the bird was banded and we could clearly make out the number on his band. My husband used his contacts to find out a little about the bird and to report that we saw him. It turns out this hawk was born in town sometime in the spring of 2010 and banded shortly thereafter – I was even sent a baby picture. He looks like a healthy urban hawk to me and I’d be happy to see him again in the yard.


A representation of deer congregating to eat my food – I don’t have any actual pictures because when I see them I’m busy chasing them away.

Other, more problematic wildlife I wish wouldn’t visit. My food forest has been slow to develop mostly due to wily deer that keep finding ways inside our not-deer-proof fortification. Since I irrigated all summer, inside the fortification was lush and green compared to the parched lawns on the outside. Clearly, I created a tasty destination for our urban deer. We’ll be rebuilding the fence over winter to prevent (hopefully) the problem next summer. The pole beans and broccoli took the brunt of the deer damage, but my apple and cherry tree were also munched on – hopefully they recover next spring! As an aside both the ground cherries and Irish poet tassel flowers were entirely ignored.