Jennifer Ruscilli is one of two community leaders from Towne Lake who are leading the charge to win Community Wildlife Habitat designation for their neighborhoods through the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Eagle Watch was the first, achieving Wildlife Habitat Certification in the fall of 2021.
“I love seeing and hearing birds; they are a bright spot in my day!” Jennifer said. “A few years ago, I got certified as both a Master Birder and a Master Naturalist. At that point, I realized the birds need more than just food from my feeders. I started planting berries, evergreens for shelter and flowers for caterpillars, which feed baby birds. It’s so important to me to have the songs of birds around me. I want them to always be here!”
Jennifer and her team of volunteers already have begun earning points for Wyngate’s certification. Points are earned in two ways: individual homeowners certifying their yards and committee-led activities, such as neighborhood plant sales and family wildlife education events.
“What we do in our yards can have a huge impact!“ Jennifer said. “During the pandemic, I became more aware of that. I saw things I had never seen before — birds like the indigo bunting and two pairs of grosbeaks!
“I like to say, ‘All it takes is one plant!’ Georgia Aster is one that will amaze you with how many bees it can feed, all through November. It’s very rewarding to know you are restoring habitat and making a place for wildlife to continue to thrive.”
Across Towne Lake Parkway, in the Arbors, Fred McManus read the TowneLaker article, “Winter Album” in January. It described the wildlife habitat effort in Eagle Watch. His son, an Eagle Watch resident, had shown his father his NWF Wildlife Habitat yard sign last year, spurring Fred to certify his yard as well.
“When I read the article about the Eagle Watch community habitat certification,” Fred said, “I thought, ‘Why not the Arbors?’ It’s a great way to get involved, meet the neighbors and do some good … I want the Arbors to be next to certify after Eagle Watch!”
Fred is a longtime wildlife enthusiast, specializing in water quality protection for nearly 30 years with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while working closely with the six National Estuary Programs in the southeast. “My work was about restoring and protecting habitat for birds, fish and animals,” he said.
“I try to do the same thing in my yard. Only 10% of my yard is actually turf. I use a lot of groundcover, and I let the natural leaf mulch remain in place. It helps ensure there are enough insects for birds and other small critters, ” he said. McManus and his wife spend many hours on their back porch: “We love to listen to the birds and watch them.”
Among his favorite wildlife plants are Star and Confederate Jasmine, shelter for many birds, and wild cherries in the backyard, where the sap and berries make a feast for his winged visitors.
“I recommend taking a look at the NWF website. There is a wealth of information there, and it tells you exactly how to certify your yard. It also has a map that shows which communities across the country have already certified,” Fred said.
If all or most of Towne Lake certifies, it will be the largest non government-led community in the country to become a Community Wildlife Habitat.
Interested in Certifying Your Yard?
Find out how to certify your yard, visit www.nwf.org/certify.
• Arbors Residents — Email Fred McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Wyngate Residents — Email Jennifer Ruscilli at email@example.com.
– Ann Litrel is an artist and certified Master Naturalist. She instructs nature journal workshops and paints in her studio, Ann Litrel Art, in Towne Lake.