Attracting wildlife to your backyard makes a rewarding and fascinating hobby. With many formerly wild areas consumed by urban sprawl, wildlife, and especially wild birds, have a hard time finding safe places to live and play. Setting up your backyard as a wildlife habitat will give wild birds a place to call home, and give you years of enjoyment. You can even have your yard certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
A certified habitat has to include the following:
- Food sources
Food sources include both feeders, such as suet or seed feeders for birds, as well as native plants. Many landscape plants can also provide food for wildlife. For example, trumpet vines and other flowers produce nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds, while mulberry and rugosa roses have berries relished by songbirds and small animals. Sunflowers produce seeds loved by birds and mammals alike, while nut trees satisfy squirrels. In a rural setting, many native bushes provide forage for deer as well. In order to be certified your yard must have at least three food sources.
- Water sources
Many animals are attracted more strongly to water, especially moving water, than even to food. Water sources in your backyard habitat can include naturally occurring streams or lakes, or manmade water features. Birdbaths are the easiest to install, and with the addition of a small pump, can become a beautiful fountain. Consider installing a pond with a shallow area for birds to splash and drink. Ponds attract many types of wildlife, including frogs, toads, birds, mammals, and of course, the fish you purchase for them! Butterflies are strongly attracted to puddle gardens and very fine mists of water. You can create a very shallow area in a pond or fountain for butterflies, or just set out small plates with water for them. In order to be certified as a wildlife habitat, your yard must contain at least one water source.
- Places for cover
Wildlife need places to hide from predators, and even humans. They also need shelter from weather. There are many ways to provide cover for wildlife in your backyard habitat. Wooded areas provide shelter for birds, and also for many mammals. Rabbits and birds alike love thorn bushes or brambles. A partially hollow tree can provide shelter to many animals all at once. A rock pile or rock wall is great shelter for reptiles and small mammals. Caves and roosting boxes provide cover for bats, which eat mosquitoes! Birdhouses used in spring to raise young become winter shelters for birds to get out of the cold. Brush or log piles are great for chipmunks, wild birds, and others. A water garden or pond provides cover for fish and frogs. Cover areas should be located away from the house, in quiet corners of the yard. They should be located in a way that keeps the prevailing winds away in winter, and do not get baked by the sun in summer. In order to be certified, your backyard habitat should have at least two sources of cover.
- Places to raise young
Backyard wildlife needs places to breed and raise their young. The types of places they will use depend on the type of wildlife. Birds use birdhouses, which can be purchased ready-made or made at home. Each bird species likes a different type of house, so look up plans for the types of birds you want to attract, and build several houses. Birdhouses need to be located in sheltered places, away from too much human activity, and should be safe from predators. They can be made of wood, metal, or even hollowed out gourds. Birds also nest in bushes, mature trees, and bramble areas, so making them feel at home is sure to fit into any landscape design. Squirrels and raccoons like to nest in dead trees or snags. Partially hollowed out, they make a great den. Woodpeckers, bats, and some other mammals also favor hollow trees. If you have enough space, a thicket in a meadow will be the perfect place for both baby deer and baby bunnies. Leaving grass to grow tall in even a small section of yard provides food and shelter for baby bunnies and ground-dwelling birds. A larger meadow area will attract wild turkeys to nest. A water garden or pond provides areas for ducks and geese, as well as frogs, toads, turtles, and sometimes, even harmless water snakes to raise their young. You might even see some rarer birds near a large water feature. Kingfishers, seagulls, and even herons will sometimes nest near a protected pond. Growing certain plants, like milkweed, will provide a place for butterflies to lay eggs, and providing hives allows the breeding of bees. In order to be certified as a wildlife habitat, your yard must have at least two places for wildlife to breed and raise young.
A big part of creating a backyard wildlife habitat is to do things in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. There are many things you can do to make your backyard habitat a little greener. Some easy ways to get started are:
Mulching reduces watering and keeps down on weeds. Using a mulch that can break down, like grass clippings or straw, adds fertilizers to the soil at the same time. Mulched plants are stronger, grow faster and larger, are better able to stand drought, and are less likely to be bothered by insect pests. Using mulch makes less work for you, and a better garden too.
Use instead of using chemical fertilizers. Composting is easy, and is a great way to grow better plants. Composted areas grow more fertile year after year, and are preserved from the harsh effects of chemical fertilizers. Chemical weed killers and fertilizers are dangerous to many of the wildlife friends you are trying to attract, so using natural methods will help them be safe and healthy.
There are many other ways to garden in an eco-friendly way. In order to be certified as a wildlife habitat, you must be doing at least two of them.
Setting up a wildlife habitat in your backyard, whether you get it certified or not, will give you years of enjoyment. Watching your newfound animal neighbors thrive and breed in the places you make for them is a great way to relax and teach your kids about nature.