Discovering Nature in Your Own Backyard
Discovering wildlife in your backyard is easy if you’re observant and know what to look for. As you prepare for your first expedition, research to learn what species are found in your region. In North America, you might spot birds, bats, toads, small mammals, deer, snakes and lizards, and an incredible diversity of insects. The creatures you’re able to see depend on where you live, the season, the time of day, and your own observation habits.
Most animals are naturally frightened of humans. People are much larger than the average backyard creature, after all. Observing wildlife requires being quiet, still, and keeping a safe and respectful distance. The U.S. Forest Service offers these recommendations for safe wildlife observation. Although they’re written for hikers on a trail, the same rules apply in urban and suburban settings.
Bring a notebook and pen so you can record what you see. Later, you can do research online to learn the names of unfamiliar species. Recording information like the date, time, and weather for each observation session reveals the patterns that develop over months and years. Perhaps you’ll discover that a pair of birds builds their nest in the same place each spring, or that everything goes still when the temperatures climb high on hot summer days.
Insects and animals aren’t the only kind of life you’ll find outside the back door. Many people don’t realize it, but there are edible plants growing naturally all around us, such as wild berries, mushrooms, and edible weeds. However, don’t just go outside and start munching on every plant you see. Not all wild plants are edible, and some may even be toxic, so it’s important to understand exactly what you’re looking for.
Some of the easiest plants you can forage are edible weeds. These include common backyard plants like dandelion and purslane, which make excellent additions to a salad, and lamb’s quarters and green amaranth, nutritious alternatives to the standard cooked greens. Mushrooms and berries can be more challenging to forage. Not only are they less common, but there may be lookalike plants that aren’t safe to eat.
In addition to positively identifying any plant you intend to eat, backyard foragers should be sure not to harvest anything found near animal excrement, busy roadways, or areas of pesticide use, and thoroughly wash food before consuming it. Additionally, be careful not to overharvest. You don’t want to disrupt the natural ecosystem or prevent the plant from returning. EdibleWildFood.com offers guidance on foraging safely and ethically.