Habitat in the backyard – Part 2: Rock On!

Teach young children to encourage and observe wildlife in your home, school or daycare center by building a rock pile.

This is the first in a series of wildlife habitat articles that can help you encourage wildlife in your schoolyard, backyard, park or other public area. Children and adults enjoy observing wildlife. There are a number of small projects that could be done in an afternoon to encourage mammals, birds, reptiles and insects to populate the places you love.

Rock piles are especially appealing to some of the less charismatic folks we share our world with.  Reptiles such as snakes and turtles, amphibians such as toads and salamanders, and lots of invertebrates including spiders and crickets, enjoy rock piles.  Although some don’t like these critters, many of them do a great job of controlling more pesky critters like garden-damaging insects and rodents.

Cold-blooded animals like rock piles because they can “hold” heat and cold longer than the air around it.  A rock warmed up by the sun will stay warm most of the night.  They also stay cooler during the heat of the day.  The area near a rock pile also tends to stay moist, which some creatures prefer.

When building the rock pile, try to have a diversity of sizes of rocks available.  The pile can simple and placed on top of the ground, but the habitat can be improved if you dig a hole in the ground.  In the bottom of the hole, place large rocks (or cinder blocks, ceramic flower pots or old clay drainage tile).  Try to layer the rocks in a way to allow for different shapes and sizes of crevices that the animals can access.  Above the ground, use smaller rocks mixed in with bigger ones.  Brush and stumps can also be integrated into the pile.

The rock pile can be incorporated into a rock garden or left as a landscape feature on its own.  If you find that the idea of a rock pile would not fit in with your landscape, a stone fence or upside-down flower pots can also create habitat for reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.

Observe your rock pile in the spring to see if snakes are emerging.  It may take several years for it to be “discovered” and put to use by wildlife in your area.

For information on how to build a brush pile to encourage wildlife in your yard, see the article “Habitat in the backyard – Part 1: The beauty of a brush pile."

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