Ravens, Bobcats, Deer, Oh My! A Suburban Backyard Turns Into a Wildlife Oasis
One wouldn’t think your average backyard in Los Angeles could attract nesting Western screech owls, turkey vultures, bobcats, a large tarantula, and a pregnant squirrel named Ms. Bonita, but the Daily James, a website about a backyard wildlife habitat, is here to prove it.
When LouAnne Brickhouse gave her partner a bird feeder as a holiday gift, she had no idea she’d soon be creating a wildlife habitat in her backyard. But they hung it in their garden and were amazed when a bird actually showed up, so they got more birdfeeders. Then they got more.
“I thought, ‘Here I am working in Hollywood, a place that’s supposed to be magic but it’s all fake,’” says Brickhouse, a former entertainment executive who recently sold a graphic novel. “And yet there’s magic coming to my backyard because I’m inviting it in.”
Soon a raven started pecking on the window whenever he came to visit, and, fortunately, he wasn’t saying “nevermore.” (Turns out ravens have facial recognition.) After naming the raven James, adding birdbaths, and creating a backyard habitat (see below), still more animals came.
Thus Brickhouse’s website, The Daily James, was born. To say that it’s a delight is an understatement: It’s rewarding and inspiring to see so many native species supported in a suburban space. In addition to critters mentioned above, her backyard habitat is also visited by deer, skunks, a one-eyed coyote, white-crowned sparrows, a Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawks, migrating orioles, California Thrashers, woodpeckers, great horned owls—at least 75 species in all.
There’s so much going on, in fact, that Brickhouse got a National Geographic photographer, who is also a fan, to be her photography mentor. “I started taking pictures so people would believe me when I said this was happening,” she says with a laugh. “James provided a bridge for me into a world I had never seen, and it was right in front of me.”
Meanwhile, at press time, she’s just one person shy of 200,000 Instagram followers, who come to stare in wonder at how there could be so much life in one backyard somewhere in the Los Angeles hills. (Due to her many fans, Brickhouse keeps the exact area secret.)
“People say, ‘You’re an animal whisperer,’” Brickhouse says. “But I’m not. I’m an animal listener.”
What You Need to Create a Backyard Habitat
A Bird Feeder
“Just start with one,” Brickhouse says, then see if you want more. However, she only puts seeds out about once a week thanks to the native plants she has in her yard. (See below.) “It seems like we’re always feeding the wildlife, but we don’t have to,” she says.
When I point out that birdfeeders are infamous for attracting rats, she counters: “We have rodents, but we also have a lot of owls and hawks. You can’t have one without the other.”
Owl boxes and trees, even fallen ones, work. “Just like us, animals need a home,” Brickhouse says. “If you build it, they will come.” Sometimes it takes years for owls to move in, she adds, but they got lucky and an owl took up residence right away. “Then we put more owl boxes up and we’ve had three years of nesting owls and babies,” says Brickhouse. “I can’t tell you what magic comes in your life when there are baby floofy owl faces in your backyard.”
Birdbaths and fountains, Brickhouse says, are essential. “We especially need them in places like California where we’re so hit by the drought. We have fountains and baths, and they are used constantly. Birds and bees and coyotes and bobcats and deer—they all need water.”
Native plants like milkweed, coyote brush, lilac verbena, and different species of sage, provide food for pollinators and seed eaters. To find out what plants are right for your area, try this native plants finder.
A Trail Camera
Get one with night vision, like the Bricknell Trophy House, which Brickhouse uses for things like surveilling camera- and people-shy bobcats.