Wildlife-Watching at Night: Five Species You May Spot in Your Backyard

from Wildlife Promise

Lesser long-nosed bat by Greg Tucker

Lesser long-nosed bat by Greg Tucker

Welcome to June 2011—a month that has been designated Great Outdoors Month by President Barack Obama and by dozens of states across the country.

Here at the National Wildlife Federation, we’re gearing up to celebrate the great outdoors with NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout, scheduled for June 25. If you participate, consider nocturnal wildlife-watching as an activity that will keep you and the family entertained even without your computer or TV. Once the sun sets, the cast of critters that roams your yard changes completely. Depending on where you live, here are five species you may be able to spot:

1. Lesser Long-nosed Bat (left): If you live in the Desert Southwest, you may be lucky enough to see one of these nectar-feeding bats on your property. Along with the Mexican long-tongued bat and Mexican long-nosed bat, lesser long-nosed bats migrate 1,000 miles or more from Mexico to feed on nectar and pollen from cacti and agaves in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  To attract them, plant agaves or columnar cacti such as saguaro, cardon or organpipe. The bats may also visit your hummingbird feeders at night.

2. Virginia Opossum: This common backyard visitor is the only species of marsupial found in North America north of Mexico. Native to the East, opossums were introduced to the West during the 1930s as a potential source of food. The animals are best known for the behavior of “playing possum”—reacting to perceived threats by pretending to be dead. In backyards, you can watch the nocturnal creatures chow down on berries, fruit or food spilled from bird feeders.

Luna moth by June Cristino

Luna moth by June Cristino

3. Luna Moth (right): A resident of forests and wooded yards across the eastern United States, the luna moth is one of about two dozen giant silk moth species native to North America. The best way to attract these beautiful insects is to grow the plants favored by their larvae—sassafras, wild cherry, birch, blueberry and dogwood, for example. The lifespan of adult silk moths is short: Because they lack mouthparts, the moths cannot feed and live for only a few days, just long enough to reproduce.

4. Raccoon: Like Virginia opossums, raccoons also are common—frequently unwelcome—backyard visitors during the night. These unmistakable masked mammals feed on nearly everything, from earthworms, birds’ eggs and frogs to birdseed, garbage and fruits and vegetables nabbed from your garden. Lots of fun to watch—particularly youngsters, which romp around like puppies—raccoons are wild animals and should remain that way.  Resist the temptation to feed them!

Great horned owl by Larry Hitchens

Great horned owl by Larry Hitchens

5. Great Horned Owl (left): These large powerful owls range across the entire North American continent, breeding in a variety of habitats, from tundra edges to forests to deserts. The birds emerge from hiding spots at dusk and survey open areas from favorite perches. They feed on just about any kind of prey: skunks, opossums, snakes, insects and even other owls.

Explore More: Check out “Enjoying the Nightlife” by Janet Marinelli in National Wildlife magazine to learn more about nocturnal backyard animals and how to attract and nurture wildlife that comes out after the sun sets.

Certify Your Yard: Make your backyard more attractive to wildlife active both day and night by turning it into an NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat.

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The photos shown above were donated by competitors in National Wildlife magazine’s annual photo contest. Why not enter your best shots in this year’s 41st annual National Wildlife Photo Contest? Winners in seven categories will appear in the magazine alongside images taken by some of the world’s top nature photographers.