My Backyard Menagerie

“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?”
– Chief Massasoit, Wampanoags of Massachusetts.

La propriété, c’est le vol!” (“Property is theft!)
– Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

My backyard.

My backyard in May, with the native azaleas in bloom.

When my wife Mary and I bought a house on 7,000+ square feet of land in a small city in Eastern Massachusetts in July 2001, I didn’t feel like I owned the land (actually, I didn’t – the bank owned it then and will continue to do so for the next 20 years or so). Instead, I imagined that I’d been asked to act as steward of this tiny portion of the earth for a period of time. So I researched the native plants that grew in this area before non-native invasive species took over, in environments similar to my back yard, found places where I could buy them legally and planted them. I wanted to recreate, to the extent I could, the diverse community of interdependent living things that had evolved before human interventions had disrupted nature’s equilibrium. You can see some of the results of the botanical portion of the experiment here and here. I can’t say that I have succeeded (yet) in reaching my goal (keeping the invasive non-natives at bay is a challenge), but there have been some positive signs. One of the benefits of creating a semi-wild space with native plants is that wildlife visits and occasionally comes to live here. I’ve been keeping a list (surprised?) of the wild animal visitors we’ve seen in the first dozen years of our stewardship (vertebrates only for now). Most are common visitors to urban and suburban backyards, but a few may be surprises. (I’d love to hear about what wildlife others have seen.)  Here is the list, organized using the biological classification system:


Order: Anura
Family: Bufonidae
            American Toad (Bufo americanus)

Superorder: Neognathae
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
            Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
            Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
            Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)

Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae
            Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
            Rock Dove (Columba livia feral)

Order: Piciformes
Family: Picidae
            Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
            Northern Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides)

Order: Passeriformes
Family: Bombycillidae
            Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Family: Troglodytidae
            Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Family: Mimidae
            Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
            Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

Family: Turidae
            American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Family: Paridae
            Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
            Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

Family: Sittidae
            White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Family: Corvidae
            Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
            American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
            Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

Family: Sturnidae
            Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Family: Fringillidae
            Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus)
            American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
            House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Family: Parulidae
            Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
            American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
            Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)
            Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)

Family: Thraupidae
            Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

Family: Emberizidae
            Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
            Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerine)
            Northern Junco (Junco hyemalis)

Family: Cardinalidae
            Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Family: Icteridae
            Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
            Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Family: Passeridae
            House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Order:  Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
            Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
            Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Subclass: Theria
Infraclass: Marsupialia
Order: Didelphimorphia
            Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Infraclass: Eutheria (placentals)
Magnorder: Boreoeutheria
Superorder: Euarchontoglires
Order: Lagomorpha
            Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

Order: Rodentia
            Groundhog/Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
            Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
            Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Superorder: Laurasiatheria
Order: Soricomorpha
            Northern Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda)

Order: Carnivora
            Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
            Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

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