Give Butterflies a Place to Drink

Interest in butterfly gardening is on the rise.

It’s a good thing, too, as it is an important way to help butterflies and other pollinators.

But did you know that some butterflies also get their nutrients from damp sand, compost and manure (behaviours called “mud puddling”), as well as from tree sap and moist organic matter like rotting fruit, dung and carrion?

Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF Caption: This swallowtail is feeding on washed up organic matter along a river
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. This swallowtail is feeding on washed up organic matter along a river.

While some of these food sources are not so appealing or feasible for us to recreate, we can help butterflies get their minerals by adding a mud puddling area near flowering plants.

Garden Mud Puddles

gardens as mudpuddles
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. Place your mud puddle in a sunny sheltered location.

Creating a mud puddle can be as simple as leaving an area of soil in your butterfly garden exposed. In other words, leaving an area mulch-free. Natural non-dyed mulch like straw or finely shredded bark or leaves is very beneficial because it keeps weeds down, keeps root temperatures more even, retains moisture and slowly adds nutrients to the garden. But if you leave the edge of the garden as bare soil, then after the garden is moistened from rain or watering, it can attract butterflies more easily.

Photo: Shelley O'Connell, QC, Photo Club Member Include native plants in your butterfly garden like asters, milkweeds, Joe pye weeds and Echinacea.
Photo: Shelley O’Connell, QC, Photo Club Member. Include native plants in your butterfly garden like asters, milkweeds, Joe pye weeds and Echinacea.

Of course, you can leave a patch of bare soil even if you don’t have a butterfly garden – any flower or vegetable garden will do. Ensure the ground is level or dips a little in one spot, rather than sloping away – slopes cause water to run off more easily, which means more work and water usage on your part to keep the area moist.

Dish Mud Puddles

Alternatively, you can place some sandy soil (not sterilized sand) in a dish, such as a plant saucer or bath. You can even use an old kitchen bowl or glass baking dish if you add enough water to dampen it. Keep an eye on rainfall to see how often you might need to moisten the dish, although don’t feel you have to keep it moist 24/7! If you have periods with lots of rain, you might also need to tip out excess water.

If you want to support other beneficial insects, add small stones to part of the dish so the insects can perch and drink water.

Additional Tips

Photo: Shannon Roberts, Photo Club Member, B.C. A swallowtail mud puddling in a British Columbia garden.

You can encourage butterflies to find and use your mud puddling spot by adding fresh compost or manure. This is especially important if the mud puddling spot is part of your garden and your soil is deficient in minerals. Your plants will benefit, too.

Butterflies tend to prefer areas that are sunny and sheltered – a factor to keep in mind when situating both a butterfly garden and mud puddle area.

This Question Mark Butterfly was feeding at a dirt-filled crack in the CWF parking lot
Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF. This Question Mark Butterfly was feeding at a dirt-filled crack in the CWF parking lot.

Remember that while most adult butterflies need flowers for nectar to feed on, they also need plant leaves to eat when they are caterpillars. The plants that caterpillars eat are called “larval food plants.” Notice the butterflies in your area and see if you can determine their host plants (check out our Gardening for Butterflies handout). Next, see if you have any of those trees, shrubs or herbaceous plants on your property. If not, consider adding some!

While it is helpful to increase butterfly habitat with food and water, it is imperative that the area is safe for butterflies to live or visit. Avoid pesticides as much as possible to keep your butterfly (and other pollinator) neighbours safe.

Learning Along the Way

Photo: Krista Melville, CWF Photo Club.

Encourage children to watch and notice which butterflies go to your flowers and which go to your mud puddle. Do some butterflies (like swallowtails) visit both or do some (like Question Marks and White Admirals that rarely visit flowers) only go to the mud puddle? Some butterflies that don’t normally mud puddle, like Monarchs, might end up visiting your muddy oasis if the summer is excessively dry and hot.

You can experiment with your mud puddle by filling half a dish with sand (non-sterilized) and the other half with compost or manure and seeing which side is most popular!

Learn more about Gardening for Wildlife with the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

5 Activities to Do With Trees

When you have the chance to look at a tree with a child, or even by yourself for that matter, there are many ways you can focus your attention.

You can admire its beauty, examine its role in that ecosystem, stimulate imagination or you can get artsy by creatively incorporating it into crafts. Here are some ideas for some of your nature walks.

1. Tree Bark or Leaf Rubbing

Leaf rubbing @CWF

Put a sheet of paper against the side of a tree and, with a crayon, rub up and down to reveal the bark’s pattern in colour! If you want to do a large area and don’t have a lot of time, either use wide crayons or remove the paper off regular crayons and use the long side for a larger surface area. Compare the differences in the leaf rubbing to see if you can spot patterns between other tree species or the different heights along the trunk.

For leaves that will fall later this year, collect and press them so they don’t dry curled up. After a few days or weeks (before they get too dry and brittle) put the leaves under a sheet of paper and make rubbings for fun, as a journal or as a picture for decoration.

2. Walk or Climb on Fallen Trees

kids outside walking along a fallen tree

Caveat: only ones that you feel are safe to use (sturdy, free of lots of prickly branches etc.)! This is both fun and great for developing balance and confidence. If need be, hold the children’s hands until they feel comfortable doing it themselves.

3. Observe Leaf Shapes

Leaves do more than just make oxygen and make lovely sounds in a breeze. Leaf shapes (or even leaf buds in the colder months) can help identify a tree species and sharpen observation skills.

4. Imagine

woman standing by lake

Imagine what it must feel like to be a tree with roots grounding you into the earth and branches raised high up to the sky. Pretend to be a tree and feel connected to the earth and sky.

For very young children this might be enough. For older children get them thinking about the role of a tree. How are the roots helping (they stabilize soil) ? How are the branches helping (they are homes for animals and leaves help make the air we breathe)? How does the trunk help (they provide wood for furniture, houses, paper, tissues and toilet paper as well as homes for cavity nesting animals) ?

5. Sit Under or Near a Tree for a Period of Time

girl outside sitting under trees

A few minutes would do for a young child, but longer for older participants. While one can do this activity anywhere, there is something about trees that can help a person slow down and be fully present. You can simply use this time to quiet the mind, becoming calm and present. Or you can use this time to engage all your senses to notice what is happening around you and wonder why that is so.

For instance, are there animals singing or scampering about or are they quiet and still? If there is a breeze, do different leaves move differently? Perhaps they have a different shape to catch the wind or their leaf stem is longer or narrower allowing them to move differently (as with Trembling Aspens). Is the tree trunk smooth or bumpy on their back? Is there sun on their face or are they in the cool shade?

Liked this? Get more educational resources from The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s website.

Herbs for Wildlife — Planting Edible Herbs for You and Wild Neighbours!

Each year I grow herbs, mainly for me but a little for wildlife, too.

For my part, I enjoy their fragrance when rubbing leaves between my fingers. I enjoy seeing their varied colours and textures on the deck and in the garden beds. And, of course, I enjoy tasting their lovely flavours.

There is something so satisfying about making a meal and simply popping outside to pick fresh basil for a pizza, parsley for a salad or lemon thyme for tea. I also like to dry my own herbs so I have lovely vibrant green herbs in my jars during the winter rather than the brownish herbs you often find in stores.

hoverfly herb

But I also get satisfaction when I leave some stems to go to flower as I know their tiny blooms are useful for loads of pollinators. From flower flies to little blue bees, they all come and work busily amongst my flowers.

I have a large oregano patch that has prolific clusters of pinky purple flowers that always seems to be full of insects. I tend to leave most of the patch alone, harvesting only a section of it for myself. But even a small pot of basil with a few flowers can help our insect allies.

The Caterpillar Connection

swallowtail caterpillar herb

Then there are plants like dill, fennel and parsley that are not only useful for their flowers but Black Swallowtail caterpillars enjoy the leaves as much as we do. If you are willing to share your plant then you will likely get to enjoy the experience of young caterpillars growing and then the final stage of a magnificent butterfly to grace your garden, even if it is only for a short time.

In this case, if you are concerned about not having any leaves for yourself, you can grow or buy extra plants or start a second crop a few weeks after you planted the first. If you are buying plants, you can always keep a few plants in a screened in area if you have one.

Of course, it’s best if you have lots of nectar plants for the adult butterflies to enjoy. Include annuals such as zinnias and calendula or perennials like milkweeds, Echinaceas, Monardas (Wild Bergamot and Bee Balm) and Joe-pye Weeds.

Growing Herbs

Growing herbs can be quite simple as most are happy with a big enough pot in full sun. Be sure to water daily, especially for plants like Basil and those in smaller pots that dry out more easily. Some will like fertilizing so add a bit of compost to your soil mix when planting.

bee herb

When it turns cold, some herbs survive the winter in my garden, like Oregano and Lemon Balm. Tender plants, however, need to come inside to a sunny window sill in order to live another year.

The Importance of Proper Window Placement

As the days are shorter in the winter, the sun becomes more important than ever. I’ve learned the hard way that I just don’t have the windows suited to help them all survive the cold for seven months. In one house I didn’t have enough space with windows that get full sun. In another house I had the window but with a baseboard heater below which meant my plants were between extremes of temperature, overriding the lovely sunny spot. So typically, I only bring inside my one Rosemary plant. The rest, like Basil and Thyme, I start from scratch each year.

Learn more about edible plants and how to garden for wildlife.

How To Set Up a Natural Playground

Including natural elements in a playground is now considered the best thing we can do for our kids.

Children themselves say the spaces are more fun. It is evident that they play better and have more natural team building as well as enhanced learning in having more to do themselves.

building a natural playground @david derocco
© CWF | David DeRocco

Advice From the Professionals

But don’t just take our word for it! Adam Bienenstock and his highly respected team at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds are inspiring positive change, supporting educators and creating “nature-based playspaces around the world.”

“As a kid, nature was everywhere — it was part of us and it was fun,” says Adam. “Play is the greatest teacher. The more sensory rich the play, the better the lesson. A natural playground is the perfect venue for children’s minds to expand and their immune systems to grow strong.”

We need to stop looking at contact with nature as a problem to be fixed and start looking at contact with nature as a solution to the problems we must solve. ~ Adam Bienenstock

@ Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds
© Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

Adam says: “These great tips will help you and your kids have a blast — you don’t even need to tell them that it’s good for them!”

  • Include what natural materials are at hand – straw bales in the fall, slices from an old tree as stepping stones or building pieces, some sturdy sticks for making a teepee or lean-to and hanging rope from a strong tree branch.
  • Partner with locals such as a hydro or tree removal for chipped mulch below play structures and retired carpentry teachers, wood working groups or high school woodworking classes to help make structures.
  • If you have a budget consider adding larger elements like a sand pit.
  • Involve all players including all teachers, administrative and grounds staff etc. in the planning as well as exploring solutions to problems that arise.
  • Encourage positive involvement from parents by explaining how the benefits outweigh any risks and give them options to minimize distrust and maximize participation. For example, do they want their child to have a change of clothing for playtime.

In the Field

These two videos from three UK schools and an American child care offer wonderful insights into how they changed their outdoor play area. They also outline the many benefits noted by all adults involved with behavior, mental states, physical abilities and learning.

For instance, children began naturally using mathematics in building and organizing items. They looked forward to going to school! Imagination and desire to play, move and create increased and boundaries between the ages dropped.

While supervisors need to be actively engaged, they found the environment to be more peaceful – to the point that their own enjoyment in the experience increased.

Did you do this at your playground? Do you have tips or resources to share? Please comment below!

The Secret Lives of Bees and Wasps

I think it’s safe to say that when most of us hear about bees or wasps we think of honey, trying not to get stung or maybe even pollination.

But there is a diverse and remarkable world that awaits to be discovered when it comes to this very large group of insects.

Solitary Species

@ Sarah Coulber | CWF

For instance, did you know that Canada has hundreds of species of bees and wasps? Most are secretive in nature and are so docile that they are easy to live alongside as neighbours. They tend to live solitary lives, flying off after laying eggs in prepared cells and provisioning each with some food. Typically, solitary bees leave a mixture of pollen and nectar. Solitary wasps, however, leave immobilized prey including many pest species. This has prompted research into how the agricultural industry can support these beneficial allies.

Solitary bees and wasps make their nests in different places, from the ground to hollow stems of plants to cavities in wood made by other insects.

Social as a Bee

As for our social species that live in a colony that works together, the most common bee people think of are Honey Bees. They are best known for the honey we eat but they are not native and are bred, unlike our wild native species, many of which are more efficient pollinators!

@ Viv LynchBumblebees are also social although they have smaller colonies than Honey Bees. But did you know that bumblebees are a group of bees rather than one species? Bumblebees have lots of hairs. This helps them pollinate plants in colder weather. They are often the only bees you’ll see on cool mornings. They are also some of the insects able to buzz-pollinate certain plants like tomatoes. This involves vibrating their bodies powerfully enough to cause the flowers of some species to release its pollen.

Bee Diverse

Our bees and wasps come in all sorts of sizes and colours. This can lead to confusion if you don’t see the insect up close and don’t know what to look for. Some bees with their blue-green colouring and small size can be mistaken for flies. Hover flies are probably mistaken the most often for a bee or wasp. This group of flies, also known as Syrphid or Flower Flies, are also one of our most important pollinators in this northern climate.

Learn more about Canada’s pollinators.

The Perfect Plants for Pollinators

We’re hearing a lot about our pollinators these days and the importance of avoiding pesticides, buying organic when feasible and minimizing bare expanses on our properties.

I’m all for some lawn to walk and play on but I also know how important it is to include flower beds, veggie gardens as well as trees and shrubs in your backyard. The larger the property, the more opportunity there is to increase this biodiversity. These plants (and their visitors) can add to your garden’s beauty, too!

Susan Biensch’s “Wildlife-friendly Habitat” certified garden
Susan Biensch’s “Wildlife-friendly Habitat” certified garden

Here are some plants that will support a wide variety of pollinators, from our many native bees and butterflies to the efficient Hover Flies as well as beetles, hummingbirds, moths and wasps. (Did you know many of our wasps are very tiny and only use their stingers to paralyze their prey which are often potential pest insect species?)

See which ones might suit your garden and visual appeal. As you look, notice how the different shapes suit different pollinators – for the size or ability to access the pollen and nectar.


Spring is a great time for many of our shrubs like Wild Plum and Apple that sport pretty blooms. Some smell lovely and all are a great food source for those pollinators that emerge at this time and are in need of food.


By the time summer arrives there is an increase of pollinators including more butterflies that are emerging from their dormant state or returning from their overwintering sites (as with Monarch Butterflies). Hummingbirds, too, are now back in many parts of the country although some warmer areas like British Columbia are fortunate to have them pretty much year round!


Some pollinators are still active in the early and late autumn. The food from your flowers can make the difference in how well they survive winter or their migration south.

For more plant ideas, visit our Native Plant Encyclopedia, our Wildlife-friendly Demonstration Garden online maps or our Native Plant Nursery List.

Rescued At-Risk Turtle Eggs Are Now Hatching!

Our Turtle Eggs Are Hatching!

This summer, our Conservation Science team has been conducting field work on pollinators, eels, bats and turtles (to name only a few projects!).

Added to the regular turtle surveying, our team collected the eggs of at-risk turtles (Blanding’s and Snapping) laid along roadsides. Roadsides may seem suitable to turtles as they look for open areas of sand or soil to bury eggs. Sadly, the eggs that are laid there have a high risk of being destroyed. So, our turtle team were out at all hours patiently gathering eggs once females had done their duty and left. (Please don’t try this at home as special permits and expertise are needed!)

Now, many weeks later, our little turtles are hatching quickly. Once all the eggs from a nest are hatched, the young will be released together in the area they were laid — only this time they will be a safe distance from the road!

CWF staff and interns have been in awe of these little wonders. We are proud to be a part of helping these at-risk-species, even if indirectly (watch our live turtle cam feed below!).

CWF’s Role in Freshwater Turtle Conservation

The Canadian Wildlife Federation continues to work with regional partners, community groups, lake associations and individuals to reduce risks to turtles. We continue to carry out on the ground surveys to document at-risk turtle locations and HELP PROTECT their habitat. We have also undertaken an analysis of hotspots where turtles are more susceptible to being hit on the road. Finally, we continue to work with partners to outfit turtles with radio transmitters to track movement, habitat use, nesting sites and overwintering sites.

Turtle Eggs Hatching

All of our eggs hatched! We have released them back into the wild. This video is a recording of a batch of snapping turtles as they worked hard to hatch.

Learn more about freshwater turtles at

Variety is Life for Hummingbirds — Photo Gallery

Hummingbirds are famous for hovering in front of flowers and feeding.

They do this by beating their wings quickly — on average they rack up 50 wingbeats per second. And when flower nectar is scarce they eat tree sap from holes made by sapsuckers – a kind of woodpecker. In fact, hummingbirds are said to follow sapsuckers to take advantage of freshly made sap holes.

But that’s not all they eat! Did you know that, in addition to a safe supply of flower nectar for carbohydrates and minerals, they also need spiders and insects for protein? Hummingbirds also need trees for perching, hiding and nesting.

Here are some of the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Photo Contest images showing Canada’s hummingbirds in their habitat.


Canadian hummingbirds must have trees for nesting and resting. © Nadia Boudreau, CWF Photo Club
Canadian hummingbirds must have trees for nesting and resting.
© Nadia Boudreau, CWF Photo Club

They build their tiny nests using plant materials, such as thistle, cattail, willow, Dandelion and Eastern Cottonwood down, small feathers, bud scales and spider webs. Sometimes the exterior of their nests are covered with lichen, moss, dried flowers or little bits of bark. Females use their whole bodies to make their nests from placing items, stamping and weaving materials into place and pushing against the walls to shape it.

Trees and shrubs make good lookouts and resting (or stretching) spots, too.


Hummingbird feeding © Tania Simpson
While sugar water feeders are a way to see these magnificent birds up close, flowers are their perfectly balanced food. © Tania Simpson, CWF Photo Club

In addition to different sugars and water, nectar also contains other compounds including amino acids. Hummingbirds feed from tubular shaped flowers, both large and small. And while they are generally attracted to the brilliant reds.

As to which flowers to visit when, studies show that hummingbirds can tell when a flower is at its peak in nectar production and they time their visits accordingly!

Some flower clusters grow along a spike like salvias, others as a tight flower head like Zinnias. For both, flowers will bloom in succession so don’t cut down old flower heads too soon, as there might be a few more flowers to feed a hungry hummingbird!

Bee Balm and Bergamot

Joe-pye weed and Zinnias

Columbine and Salvia

Cardinal Flower and Obedient Plant

Jewelweed and Lonicera vine

Learn more about hummingbirds and more of Canada’s avian friends at the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Wild About Birds website.

Saving Water in Style

Make Rain Barrels a Fun Feature of Your Garden — Not an Ugly Tool to Hide!

With weather becoming highly changeable in recent years, it’s a good idea to be prepared for just about anything. Sure we can get sopping wet weather, but we can also get dry spells too. And those dry spells can last longer or happen more frequently nowadays. Keep your plants watered and save on water bills or wells by adding a rain barrel to your garden. The benefits are many — the least of which is no longer having to haul, drag and then recoil a hose pipe!

Spiral Tree Rain Barrel
Spiral Tree Rain Barrel @

Set up the rain barrel by the house under the downspout that channels water from the eaves-trough. You can also add a rain barrel  if you have a larger garden with a shed. Read here for helpful tips in setting one up.

But don’t be turned off if the conventional plastic models don’t suit your style! There are new shopping options plus many ways to turn a potential eyesore into an attractive or funky element in any garden.

Cover Up

While there is nothing wrong with the plastic barrel look — especially when creatively surrounded by plants with texture and colour — you still might want to dress it up as with these covering ideas.

Vintage Charm

If you like the wood theme, consider reusing an old wine barrel. It’s a classic look that blends in beautifully with most any garden.

Rain barrel - vintage charm
Vintage Charm @

Painted Barrels

If you have an artistic side or want to give your kids a place to express themselves then check these out for inspiration!

New Styles

There are now more options when buying a rain barrel, from styled plastic to ceramic that also allow for plants grown at the top.

Whatever the garden or location, a rain barrel can be a fun, attractive addition to your space, and a great step toward making your garden wildlife-friendly!

CWF’s Recent Visitor

cecropia moth
our cecropia moth visitor with its feathery antennae, soft fuzzy legs and body and beautiful patterning on its wings

This week our headquarters had a great surprise – a visit from a cecropia moth. One of Canada’s largest moths, their wingspan can be approximately 15 cm wide! Our moth conveniently stayed put for 2 days, first on the ground and then hanging in a small ash tree mixed with our elms and maples. CWF’s facebook post on it got tons of attention, so we thought a few more photos and facts would be good!

Cecropia moths (Hyalophora cecropia) only live for a week or two as adults, with their sole purpose being mating and laying eggs. Adult moths don’t have mouth parts and never eat. They are native from Alberta to Nova Scotia and can be found around maple, apple, birch and poplar trees, among others, where they lay their eggs and caterpillars feed.

cecropia moth
cecropia moth – you can see its eyes and feathery antennae

I love how you can see its eyes which are dark bluish looking.

cecropia moth
cecropia moth – its belly is intricately patterned!

Check out all the photos and comments on our facebook page, too!