Backyard Biota

Backyard Tenants Who Take Advantage of Your Passive Green Space

By Kristin Love

As summer is going full force with incredible greenery, productive blackberry bushes and summer rainstorms, your backyard plays host to a myriad of native wildlife every single day. While some animals are unintended guests, your passive greenspace provides much needed food, shelter and water to cute critters and their young. Let’s learn about four of your basic backyard tenants!

Tenant 1: Eastern Mole

Description: We are small mammals with velvety gray fur, a slim pointy nose, fused eyes, large front paws, scoop-shaped for digging, and short hairless tails.

My Nosy Neighbor Trait: I am an accomplished excavator! In soft soil, I can dig new burrows at the rate of 18 feet an hour. When digging, I sometimes push excess soil up vertical tunnels. This forms piles of dirt commonly called molehills, which a lot of homeowners don’t appreciate.

My Helpful Hand Trait: I am credited as a major controller of invasive insect species, like Japanese beetles, because I love to eat their larvae! I help to keep insects of your pretty plants!

Tenant 2: Striped Skunk

Description: We have two thick white stripes along our backs and tails that sharply contrast an otherwise black coat. The specific pattern of the stripes on our head, body and tail can vary among individuals, and is accompanied by a thin, white stripe running from our snouts to foreheads.

My Nosy Neighbor Trait: As a last resort, I will spray my sulfide-laden musk from my musk glands. I have a nearly 20-foot range and am impressively accurate up to about 10 feet.

My Helpful Hand Trait: I like to feed on agricultural pests, like mice and grasshoppers! I am an incredibly shy neighbor, and usually I prefer to move around at night, so I don’t bother anyone.

Tenant 3: Northern Cardinal

Description: I am the most common red bird in Georgia, but males and females of my species look very different. Male cardinals are brilliant red all over, with a reddish bill and black face immediately around the bill. Females are pale brown overall with warm reddish tinges in the wings, tail, and crest. We all have the same black face and red-orange bill.

My Nosy Neighbor Trait: I can sometimes be an “intruding bird”, accidentally flying into windows, but who can blame me when my neighbors keep theirs so clean? This isn’t fun for either of us, since it can cause damage to the window, and I can be hurt from the impact.

My Helpful Hand Trait: My blood is considered a super suppressor! Researchers from the CDC showed that even when a mosquito with West Nile Virus fed on a Cardinal, our blood stopped the transmission and killed the virus, so it doesn’t get passed on. I am one of only a handful of birds in the country that can have this effect!  

Tenant 4: Gray Fox

Description: My name may say gray, but I am typically dark brown once I reach adulthood. I am a canid (dog) with a long body, short legs, and my tail makes up about 1/3 of my body!

My Nosy Neighbor Trait: Because I am an omnivore, I eat both plants and animals. This does mean that your backyard chickens are right up my alley, so keeping your small animals and pets safe, especially at night, is important with me around.

My Helpful Hand Trait: I am a much friendlier property inspector! Instead of worrying with property lines or how tall your grass is, I am an indicator that your garden or backyard is healthy and offers good habitat for your native friends! I also eat a ton of mice, slugs, and rats, on average making up over 50% of my overall diet!

Make Your Backyard Inviting to Native Wildlife

For more information on how to better set up your backyard to support native wildlife, please visit