If there's one thing that can rival the latest toy or electronic gizmo for a child's attention, it's a chance to observe wildlife. Here are a few ideas to turn your yard into an attractive stopping ground for friendly critters.
Hang up a hummingbird feeder: With wings that beat up to 80 times per second, these little birds literally buzz about searching for nectar. To give them an energy boost, pick up a hummingbird feeder at your local garden center or birding shop. No need to purchase artificial nectar, though. Simply stir 1 part white cane sugar into 4 parts water, and skip the red dye that's so often recommended to attract hummingbirds (you can use red duct tape to decorate the feeder instead).
Set up a birdbath: Just as we humans enjoy taking a quick dip on a warm day, so do the birds. A simple way to provide them with the sort of shallow pool they prefer is to cradle an inverted garbage can lid in a base of flat stones or bricks and fill it with water and a few small rocks (for a landing place). Choose an open spot that neighborhood cats can't sneak up on, and be sure to clean and refill the lid regularly.
For more tips on attracting birds, pick up a copy of the book Smithsonian Bird-watcher (Dorling Kindersley).
Provide abodes for toads:These hungry amphibians can be a big help in keeping garden pests, such as slugs, grubs, and potato beetles, under control. Entice them to hang out around your plot by creating a shady retreat. Pick a spot that's protected from the wind and where the soil is moist, and dig a few shallow depressions. In each one, lay a terra-cotta flowerpot on its side and then fill it partway with sandy soil.