Removing fallen leaves takes away shelter for insects

Armed with hand snips, rakes and leaf blowers, fall homeowners start the fall clean up right after Halloween. Before you exhaust yourself raking, blowing, bagging leaves and cutting down dead stalks in the yard, consider that there are many benefits for wildlife to leaving plant debris where it is for fall and winter.

There are significant environmental consequences to overzealous cleanups. An avalanche of leaves winds up in landfills, adding to pollution problems. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that landscape debris - an astonishing 32 million tons annually -makes up more than 13 percent by weight of all solid waste generated in the U.S.

Other points to consider are collecting, transporting and consolidating the collected leaves and clippings. The valuable organic matter in leaves can be used in a variety of beneficial ways in the garden and on flower gardens.

Fall cleanups leave the landscape barren for birds and other wildlife at a time when natural food supplies are beginning to become more scarce and when the naked trees can’t provide the cover of leaves. Leaving leaves on flower and garden beds provides the plants with a protective blanket throughout the winter, and helps to conserve water year-round. The leaves also enrich the soil as they decompose.

Old flower heads and stalks become winter nests for many wild creatures. Allow flower heads to go to seed rather than cutting them, unless they are invasive ones. There aren’t many flower heads that need removing now. Take out only diseased plant parts and leave the rest. The winter brown debris becomes winter nests for Lady Bug beetles, butterflies and other insects that bed down among the stalks during cold weather.

If you have too many leaves in your yard, compost them. Fall is a good time to start a compost pile because of the variety of leaves available. When you walk in the woods, push the layers of leaves aside and take a look at the rich dirt beneath them.

Halloween is over, and the Jack O’ Lanterns are ready to be disposed. Cut them in half and leave them out for the wild critters for a week to 10 days. They are a treat for many birds and four-legged wild critters. Those with toxic paints on them can be trashed. You don’t want to poison wildlife.

The juncos have arrived right on time. They usually return by the end of October. They are happy little birds and get along well with other ground-feeders. Dressed in slate-gray wings and buff-colored breasts, these jaunty little birds are about the size of a fat sparrow. Many “migrate” to higher elevations for winter, saving time and energy that would otherwise be expended in lengthy migrations. They have been observed burrowing through snow to unearth seeds that they enjoy. They also frequently arrive just before daybreak to clean up spilled seeds under feeders.

The group of birds that chickadees travel with in fall and winter don’t seem to tap into the chickadees network of food information but do profit from the small bird’s predator-defense system. Being the smallest in a foraging group, the chickadee is often pushed off the perch at feeders by nuthatches and titmice.

Fall and winter Blue jays are camouflage artists disappearing behind a branch of a leafless tree. Although they are larger than most birds and stand out with their pristine blue and white feathers, they can disappear in the woods without a trace.

White throated sparrows are back for the fall and winter and add their brief songs to the gray November skies. The white throated sparrow is a bird with a large song repertoire. The younger ones learn from the older birds what their songs should sound like. Sometimes, especially in the fall, you can hear a young bird tune up and sing two or three notes and repeat them over and over. It doesn’t know its species’ complete song yet, but it will by spring.

To the delight of wildlife, persimmons are ripe. The fruit is engrained in the culture of the South. The common persimmon tree sprawls across the Southeast and is usually loaded with large berries by this time of the year. A persimmon tree often hosts caterpillars of the beautiful Luna moth. More than 20 species of wildlife eat persimmons. Some of the more common persimmon-lovers are opossum, rodents, white tailed deer (which also eats the twigs and leaves), raccoons, foxes, black bears and skunks.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing. Continue to bring in the bird feeders. Bears are still roaming.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.