In Jain texts, the term ahimsa denotes the principle of least harm: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being.” Jain monks take great care to look out for the least among us, going to lengths to avoid harming insects and so forth.
I’m neither a Jain nor a monk. Still, ahimsa seems to be tangled in my genetic code . . . just to mess with me. As a child, I believed that everything was alive, beyond the sentient beings and plants we normally infuse with the concept of “life.” Treading upon this earth was rife with conflict from the start. I won’t take it any further because I realize there’s probably a textbook pathology that describes me and my dysfunction. Either that, or I’ve invented a new one.
But, the Jain concept of saving insects is something I do. Which is actually what brought me, in a roundabout way, to this post. We have a birdbath on our back deck. Birdbaths are such a cool way to invite birds into small or shared spaces without the mess or expense of feeders. But it distressed me to find dead bugs during my regular refills and scrub-downs of the bath. I figured out that most insects could escape the bath if they had a gripping surface to which they could flap or paddle. So, my simple solution:
Today, I was doing my birdbath scrub, happy to find (as usual) no deceased bugs in the bath. It really does work. It reminded me of a kooky invention I’d seen several years ago by a guy who couldn’t stand to see spiders stranded in his bathtub: the spider ladder. I couldn’t find that particular invention but I did find a DIY version of the ladder.
That got me ruminating on the tiny ways our actions affect the animal world around us. This is my personal, mishmash of a list — things to help the wild critters among us. These are not big, bad, global solutions. I’m limiting this list to things I personally do in and around the house/apartment. There are obviously expanded possibilities beyond my world.
Simple Things To Help Wildlife
. . . in no particular order. Got favorites? Drop me a line or comment.
- Cultivate a wildlife habitat — flowers and plants in the garden that attract wild birds and butterflies. Reduce that grand monocrop of lawn. If you live in a Monarch butterfly migration area, plant a Monarch habitat with milkweed. Monarch numbers are declining, their habitat is disappearing to development and agricultural expansion.
- On that topic, avoid buying foods made from monoculture crops like commercial corn that wipe out habitat for migrating birds and native grouse. Birds and animals living at the edges of fields are exposed to pesticides used on these crops. There’s a reason the “go local” mantra has traction. Buy local, know your farms and farmers and how they treat their land.
- Avoid toxic garden and household products. Beyond water-system pollution and damaging physiological effects on people and animals, harmful garden chemicals reduce populations of beneficial insects and important food sources in the ecological web. Non-toxic products are so easy to find these days (unlike 20 years ago when Hugh and I practically had to bribe landlords not to douse us with their monthly pesticide maintenance).
- Or, you can make your own non-toxic products. Two great resource for that: Annie Berthould-Bond who wrote Clean and Green. And Karen Logan’s Clean House, Clean Planet. I featured some recipes from her book in a piece I wrote years back for NLT: Healthy Home (p.2).
- Birdbaths or shallow (drown-proof) fountains provide a low-mess way to give wild birds a necessary resource. Be aware that small birds can drown in levels of water we would consider innocuous. One to three inches deep is good. And a rock in the bath, like the one pictured above, can provide a quick sanctuary for anyone who gets stuck in the bath.
- Save bugs. They really do appreciate it even if they can’t say so. Bugs have a good reasons to be here.
- Meatless Mondays. Or any meatless day of the week. MM is the popular jargon that sears the brains of diehard carnivores. But c’mon. It’s one day. Reducing reliance on commercial agriculture extends benefits into habitat conservation. Michael Pollan suggests that if you do eat meat, it should be used as a ‘condiment,’ not a main course, not at every meal. Pollan calls this Flexitarianism — eating mostly vegetables with a nub of meat at most.
- Leave autumn detritus and leaves in your garden. At the end of summer, a time when eats are already becoming scarce for wildlife, birds can forage under leaves for grubs and other bugs who find shelter in the fallen matter.
- Put bird decals on windows, and make windows less reflective for birds by adding curtains or blinds. See Audubon’s Minimizing Window Collisions
- Drive the speed limit on rural roads, especially during times when wildlife is most likely to be crossing — dawn and dusk. Know how animals behave so you can better react when you see one in the road. Deer, for instance, rarely cross alone. Same is true of many wild animals. Always stop and wait to see if another animal is right behind. Scan roadsides constantly for anomalous shapes or movements.
- Don’t feed wildlife, here’s why.
- Get off plastic as much as possible. Everyone pretty much knows about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by now. But walk any shoreline and you can’t miss the plastic decor.
- Learn how various garden appointments and fixtures affect wildlife. Birds can get hopelessly trapped in netting. I’ve seen birds accessioned, tangled in the novelty webbing people use to decorate at Halloween.
- This should go without saying but, unfortunately, it still needs to be said. Don’t use glue traps or rodent poison. They’re inhumane, first and foremost. But even if you don’t care about your target species, the harm done by glue traps to non-target animals like birds is pretty horrific. As is the poisoning that goes up the food chain when raptors and other mammals ingest poisoned rodents. It saddens me that glue traps are still legal. And rodenticides.
- Look into humane wildlife solutions if you have a “nuisance” animal in or around your home. Wildcare, a local Bay Area wildlife hospital, has a Wildlife Solutions department. The Skunk Whisperer, slated for TV fame talks about his exclusion techniques in humanely deterring wildlife from homes.
- Put up a bat house for natural mosquito and insect control — and to help bat conservation efforts.
- Do your best to keep cats indoors, especially during nesting and fledgling season. I’ve always wanted my cats to have fresh air and sun. When I was young, I ignorantly let them roam free until I realized the hazards to them and to wildlife. But there are ways to let them out while confining them to bird-safe areas — cat runs, cat fences, etc. And, any animal that survives a cat must be taken to a vet or wildlife facility for antibiotics. If your cat brings something in, get the animal to a licensed wildlife entity. Even if it appears uninjured. Puncture wounds can be tiny, and the bacteria can kill a bird.
- Don’t trim trees while birds are nesting. Many babies end up dead or orphaned in wildlife hospitals because of this simple-to-change policy. Mary Cummins, President of Animal Advocates (Los Angeles) has some great information on tree trimming and baby animals (squirrels, birds): Trimming Trees With Babies in Mind.
- Don’t flush meds down the toilet. Meds or anything else you don’t want to see in the water system. Treatment plants can’t effectively filter out hormones and drugs and other synthetics that end up in freshwater and oceans. Most medicines can be taken to hazardous substance drop-offs in your area.
- Edited to add Carrie’s note (from comments): Do support local wildlife hospitals and organizations. As Carrie said, they do much more than what appears on the surface in terms of helping resident wild animals and also taking these concepts into new generations with educational programs. Here are a few Bay Area facilities. Link here to find wildlife rehabilitators in your area.