Wildlife in the Garden
As a botanical garden, The Oregon Garden is dedicated to being a world-class horticultural showcase. That means well-curated and cultivated plants. But more than that, it is a place to enjoy nature. And not just flora, but fauna, too. The Garden is alive with myriad ecosystems and their inhabitants, and on any given visit you’re likely to encounter at least a few of the creatures that call it home.
Although they are an invasive pest, bullfrogs provide ample opportunities for education. Photo by Jim Choate.
Perhaps one of the most prolific and easiest to spot denizens of the Garden are the highly invasive bullfrogs, Lithobates catesbeianus, which sharp eyes will spot in our A-Mazing Water Garden during the warm months. Native to central and eastern America and Canada, these behemoths of the amphibian world can grow to greater than 6 inches in length, and are capable of eating anything that can fit in their enormous mouth, including native birds, snakes and fish.
It is their unrelenting appetite, ability to out-compete other species, rapidly procreate and transmit disease that makes them a pest in this state. Still, their remarkable transformation from tadpole to frog and their highly effective evolutionary advantages, like webbed feet and mottled camouflage, make them an invaluable tool when teaching children about animal adaptations and habitats.
The great blue heron is an unmistakable resident of the Garden’s wetlands. Photo by Joseph Blowers.
Luckily, we’re not alone in our fight against invasive species. The great blue heron is one of Oregon’s most recognizable waterfowl, with its long neck and beak, standing at up to 4 feet tall with a wingspan that can be over 6 feet. These birds are adept at catching prey, including bullfrogs, fish, reptiles and even small rodents. Lone hunters that stand motionless as they wait for prey, then strike with a sudden stab of their beak, you will most often spot them in the quieter morning and evening hours in our wetlands and A-Mazing Water Garden.
Male redwing blackbirds are easily identified by their bright red and yellow shoulder plumage. Photo by Cindy Mc.
Of course, there are many other species of birds that make the Garden their home, either permanently or for a season as they migrate through our region. During the last Backyard Bird Count, which The Oregon Garden participates in each February, nearly 100 species of birds were spotted in Marion County. Some, like the redwing blackbird pictured above, are a common sight in the Garden. Males of this species are easily identified by the boldly-colored red and yellow patches on their shoulders and their unmistakable call, which growing up we thought sounded like a high-pitched yell of “pumpkin eat-er!” Like the blue heron, redwing blackbirds are found primarily in and around marshes, swamps and damp fields, often perched on cattails.
If you’re lucky, you might also spot one of Oregon’s native hummingbirds, attracted to the Garden by our rich variety of nectar plants like daylilies, columbine and lupine. These small birds can be hard to spot, so keep your ears open for the raspy call of the Anna’s hummingbird, the only species to be found in Oregon year-round, and the buzzing sounds of the male rufous hummingbird’s daredevil mating flight.
Did you know that the docile garter snake is also quite a proficient swimmer? Photo by Keri Logan.
While most Garden guests aren’t bothered stumbling upon birds or spotting a frog, some might be surprised to come across another common Garden resident – snakes! But know that the species you’ll encounter inside the Garden are not only harmless but actually beneficial – they feed on garden pests such as slugs and snails, earthworms and occasionally small frogs. Keep an eye out for the common garter snake, Northwestern garter snake or mountain subspecies of terrestrial garter snake, all of which average 2 to 3 feet in length and exhibit a wide range of coloration, with dorsal stripes in shades of bright red, yellow, white, blue and tan. They can be seen sunning themselves on our asphalt paths on sunny days or even going for a dip in one of our ponds, as pictured above! Garter snakes are surprisingly proficient swimmers.
Nutria like this one eat marsh plants critical to erosion control, damaging lake and pond banks. Photo by Andy Purviance.
Many mammals large and small make their home in the Garden, too. Most you won’t spot during daylight hours – raccoons, skunks and possums, for example – but others are less shy. There are plenty of squirrels, of course, and if you sneak a peek in the wetland ponds outside our gate you might catch sight of a nutria. These large, non-native rodents are sometimes confused with beavers. Unlike beavers, they have a thin, hairless tail and are incredibly destructive to the environment. They create extensive burrows and feed on the roots of marsh plants, resulting in the erosion of the banks of lakes and ponds.
Some gardeners find deer charming, while others think of them as a nuisance. Photo by Allan Hack.
Another mammal that can be detrimental to the Garden are deer. While these Oregon natives, including the Columbian black-tailed deer, pictured above, and the common white-tailed deer, are docile. They can wreak havoc on unprotected plants, often browsing all the buds off of rose bushes or nibbling the stems and leaves off edible plants just prior to harvest. Management techniques include using various deer repellents, deer-proof fencing like the one newly installed around our Rose Garden, and landscaping with deer-resistant plants like sage, yarrow and euphorbia.
Despite being an occasional nuisance, there’s something serene in spotting deer in the Garden. It’s not unusual to see young deer with their mother during fawning season, which lasts from May through June. Because deer in our area tend to be less fearful of humans, you’re more likely to spot them during the daytime than you would in a true wilderness setting.
Animal art in the Garden. Left: At Home in Oregon Waters by Jabe Jackson. Right: Bufo by Keith Jellum.
Even if you don’t spot any – or all – of the wildlife discussed here, you’ll always be able to find the tributes local artists have made in their honor, like At Home in Oregon Waters by Jabe Jackson, above left, and Bufo by Keith Jellum, above right. Also be on the lookout for our slug and squirrel drinking fountains, bust of Bobbie the Wonder Dog and even mythical beasts like Mr. Ed the sea serpent! Whoever you happen to spy during a trip to the Garden, it’s sure to be a memorable experience, and one that will change with each visit. We look forward to seeing you soon!