Garden Wildlife

Creating a Backyard Habitat

Requiring little time, skill or equipment, attracting local wildlife to your yard is a great way to add visual interest and support important plant and animal populations. If every gardener across the country considered the food and habitat needs of local birds, bees, butterflies and small animals, thousands of acres could be added to their list of potential homes.

Over the past several years, a severe decline in the number of honeybees has been documented – some estimates suggest up to 50 percent of bees worldwide populations have vanished. Vanishing milkweed plants have made once-common Monarch butterflies a relatively rare sight. One out of every three bites of food we eat depends on the local pollinators like these, making backyard habitats for wildlife is an important part of a healthy local ecosystem.

Wildlife Garden Planning

Keep these tips in mind when planning your landscape and choosing plants and in no time at all, you’ll have a number of new backyard visitors.

Native plants offer animals feeding in your yard a safe place to rest, hide from predators, rear their young and feed. The best habitats integrate plants with different life cycles and bloom times. You’ll be able to watch the wildlife in every season and ensure that your yard contains year-round food sources including seeds, cones, nuts, berries and foliage. Also, consider the diversity of your plant life. The ideal wildlife sanctuary should have a layer of ground cover, shrubs and canopy cover from taller trees.
A clean, flowing water source or a well-maintained birdbath is another great way to attract wildlife, especially wild birds, to your yard. In addition to drinking, birds need frequent baths, especially during the winter when it can be hardest to find. Believe it or not, it’s how they stay warm. Dirty feathers don’t insulate as well as clean ones. Because of this, birdbaths, when properly used, will bring an even greater variety of birds to your yard.
Because different birds have different feeding habits, it is best to set up several feeding stations. Mourning doves, sparrows and juncos prefer to feed on the ground. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, tufted titmice and chickadees prefer to eat from swinging feeders. They will also dine at small devices attached to trees. Others prefer stable platforms.

Encouraging birds to feed at different levels and widely spaced places will reduce friction and will attract more species. Some, such as purple finches and evening grosbeaks, will even feed from second-story-window feeders. If there are cats in the neighborhood, it is good to keep feeders away from cover. A cat out in the open where birds can see it presents no problem. It’s another story when the cat is concealed under a bush near feeding birds.

Feeding Wildlife

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Wildlife MonarchButterflies

Attract Butterflies

More than a just a beautiful addition to your garden, a butterfly’s taste for nectar also makes it an important pollinator. Attracting them creates better harvests, more blooms and a healthier overall garden.

  • Plant milkweed to attract Monarchs – their larvae exclusively feed on it and adults lay their eggs on it
  • Adult butterflies are most attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple flowers
  • Key nectar sources should get full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon as butterflies like to feed in the sun
Wildlife Bees

Be the Bee’s Knees

As one of the most common pollinators, bees are an essential part of every successful garden. And their declining populations make it more important than ever to consider them in your landscape planning.

  • Create diverse plantings with different heights and with different bloom times
  • Include wildflowers and native plant species – they’re excellent sources of pollen and nectar
  • Avoid using pesticides as even organic versions are toxic to bees
Wildlife BirdBaths

Know Your Bird Bath Basics

Once you’ve got your feeders set up, adding a bird bath to your garden is the next step in increasing the number and variety of feathered friends that stop by. Keep these tips in mind when choosing one for your space.

  • Select a bird bath with gently sloping sides
  • Fill with water no more than 1.5” deep
  • Place your bath in the shade of a tree where it will stay cool and be close to cover – wet birds need a nearby spot where they can safely dry
  • An electric immersion heater will keep your bath from freezing during winter

Get Started

The experts at Earl May can help you select the perfect native plants to meet your habitat goals and attract wildlife. Additionally, local university cooperative extension offices are a great source of information on local wildlife and the kind of plants needed to sustain them.

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