Kevin Kesinger was in his yard one day when a young boy poked his head over the fence.


          “Are you a farmer?” the boy asked.


          Kesinger looked around his yard and replied: “Yes, I guess I am.”


          Then came the boy’s next question: “Aren’t you supposed to be out in the middle of nowhere?”


          The question was a fair one. Kesinger’s lot, which he maintains as a wildlife habitat, is home to a variety of native plants, birds, insects and small mammals. Yet it’s surrounded by schools, businesses and churches, and the people and traffic that go with them.


          And that’s exactly why he does it.


“I kind of think of this as being an urban farmer,” he says. “With population growth, we’re pushing out every other natural species of animal and plant. The more we can save places for them, the more we’ll have left as our heritage.”


          Kesinger’s yard, an otherwise average lot, is certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. He also maintains the nearby lot, which houses his office, as a habitat, though he hasn’t had it certified.


          Birds are among his favorite cohabitants, and he has plenty of them.


“We have mallards, hawks, owls and a lot of different birds that I don’t even know what they are,” he says. “I’ve brought quail over, and tried to establish them. They went out into the neighborhood, and at night you can hear them.”


          He also has beehives, from which he harvests honey for eating and trading each year. And he gets the occasional raccoon, possum and rabbit.


“You can use monkey grass for rabbits,” he says. “And they love pansies and rye grass.”


          Kesinger is a landscape contractor, but he says just about anybody can do what he does. Neither of his yards had much more than a couple of large trees when he started, so he added a variety of native vegetation to both, concentrating on flowering plants and berry-producing shrubs such as yaupons. He also put out a few feeders and began throwing feed at various spots in the yard.


          Next, he added water sources. Each spring, he digs out a small pond in one yard to attract mallards.


“The ponds are just 20 or 30 feet across, just deep enough to hold water,” says Kesinger, who’s quick to note that water sources don’t need to be as large as a pond to attract wildlife.


“They’ll fly over and find it, and once they do, they’ll come back. If they lay eggs, you’ll have another generation that’ll keep coming.”


          Overall, he says attracting wildlife is simple: It’s all about meeting their basic needs, along with not using things that will drive them away, such as chemical fertilizers and weed killers.


          “We don’t use any weed killers here. We just pull it to get rid of it, or keep it mowed down. And we leave lots of things in their natural state. It’s like back to nature 70 years ago.”



          Ever wonder what birds are saying as they call back and forth? In our area, one good guess might be something like this:


          “Hey, have you been to Leslie Davis’ yard?”


          “Oh yeah, talk about pampering!”


          “She has the best food, lots of water and plenty of cover.”


          “And she even puts out stuff to build nests with and extra food when it’s cold. I love that place!”


          OK, so maybe not. But it’s easy to imagine them thinking Davis ’ yard is the Hilton of backyard habitats.


          Some of the amenities on her Casa Linda lot? A creek, ponds, fountains, native shrubs and trees, multiple feeders, bags of dryer lint for nest building, and even an organically maintained pool the ducks swim in. And when winter comes and insects are hard to find, out come protein-filled meals of peanut butter, nuts and lard mixed with fresh-squeezed orange juice.


          Davis and Lisa Connaway have maintained their yard with organic gardening for years. So when they read about the Best of Texas Backyard Wildlife Habitat certification, they decided to apply.


“We realized we were already doing the kinds of things it required,” Davis says. “We’d been focusing on organic gardening, and this got us thinking more in terms of providing habitat.”


          Much of what they do involves leaving their yard in its natural state.


“A lot of birds don’t nest up high,” she says. “They like brambles, piles of tree limbs and things. So if a big hunk of tree comes down, we just leave it.”


          They did add some things, though, to attract a variety of wildlife.


“We added a fountain that bubbles up, so they can sit on rock and drink, and we’ve put in certain plants, and plan for more.”


          The result?


“We have probably 20 species of birds, raccoons, possums, and a resident snapping turtle. And we have a lot of frogs. We have a little bitty pond we created, and frogs have babies in there every single year. We’ve also noticed an abundance of butterflies and geckos and lizards.”


          What do Davis and Connaway receive from offering their yard to all that wildlife?


“I like the idea we can provide an oasis in the city for these little animals. Like they have a haven in the middle of all our development,” Davis says.


“But also, we really enjoy getting to observe all those things. We’re so much more aware of what’s taking place around us now. It’s very rich to have all this stuff going on in your yard

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