If your garden includes sources of food throughout the year, water, a variety of structure (height and shape) that can be used for cover, and plenty of places for animals to create nests in to reproduce, it’s likely that you already have lots of wildlife in your yard.
Wildlife requires 4 things to thrive
- Places to reproduce
Native plants are a great source of food for wildlife. You’ll need a mixture of plants in order to attract the widest variety of wildlife and to provide food at different times of the year. Some of the ones I use in my yard are highlighted in this blog.
Wildlife feeds on berries, nuts, nectar, seeds, and sometimes even the leaves and flowers themselves. Plan out your garden to include plants that still have berries or seeds in winter. Although deadheading flowers is a common practice, keep some of those spent flowers so that they produce seeds for wildlife to eat.
Here are some quick guides:
Feeders are another way to supply food to wildlife in your yard. It is important to keep bird feeders clean in order to reduce the spread of diseases. Audubon recommends that you clean your bird feeder once or twice a month by immersing it in a 9:1 water to bleach solution, rinsing it thoroughly, and then letting it dry completely before refilling.
Different birds require different types of food and feed off of different structures – so you may want to supply a feeder for suet, one for fruit, one for mealworms, and one or two for seeds (peanuts, sunflower, millet, thistle). Depending on what types of birds you are attracting, you may need a platform feeder, house feeder, tube feeder or suet feeder. Better yet – get one feeder that has multiple tubes!
Hummingbird feeders also must be kept clean in order to keep the birds healthy. Read my tips on cleaning a hummingbird feeder.
Just like us, animals have to drink water. Whether you have a bird bath or a small pond or fountain, adding a source of water into your garden is beneficial to wildlife. In winter, use a heater to keep ice off of your bird bath.
Clean out the water regularly to reduce the spread of disease and to keep mosquitoes from reproducing in the water. The National Audubon Society recommends changing the water daily and disinfecting the bird bath once or twice a month with a 9:1 water to bleach solution.
If you have a small pond, place a few large rocks or a log in the pond that stick out above the water level. Birds, turtles, and other animals will use these structures when to rest while drinking or to bask in the sun.
Cover and Space to Reproduce
Cover includes trees, shrubs, thick grass, brush piles, or other structures that provide a place for a bird or animal to hide from predators or that offers protection from the elements. Different birds and animals have different requirements, so it’s a good idea to look up the needs of the specific animals or birds you are trying to attract.
Generally speaking, providing a variety of trees and shrubs of differing heights and growth forms is a good idea. Mix in some evergreens with your deciduous trees so that there is cover year round. Include some vines in your yard as well as grasses and ground cover. The more variety in structure and shape of your plants, the better.
Tree snags or hollow trees are used by a variety of wildlife as homes, a source of food, and a place to hide. If you can safely leave a snag in your garden, it makes great wildlife habitat. There was one snag in my garden that has been used by a family of raccoons, woodpeckers, and even wood ducks!
If you don’t have large tree snags or hollow trees that can provide shelter for bats in your garden, bat boxes are a good alternative. They need to be 15 feet off the ground in an open area, facing southeast. See the Organization for Bat Conservation instructions for placing a bat house.
If you would like to attract more bees to your neighborhood, consider putting up a bee house. Here are some instructions for making a bee house.
Brush piles can also provide cover for amphibians and reptiles. While these are great for wildlife, you should exercise caution around these piles in areas where venomous snakes are present. Anyone who has found a snake in their compost knows that the surprise is often enough to get your heart racing. While these reptiles are important species and should be left alone, you must be aware of their presence and do your best to avoid disturbing them.
Watching the wildlife in your backyard can bring you such joy and wonder, but it is important that you respect the boundaries of this wildlife. Wild animals are just that, wild. Give them space and never approach or corner wildlife. Take steps to discourage these critters from entering your home. Check for easy entrance points to your house and close them, put screens over any dormers in your roof, check for loose boards or gaps in boards, and keep an eye out for signs of animal activity close to the house to see what is attracting them and remove it. Be especially careful with how and where you dispose of food trash. Secure trash can lids and consider keeping trash in the garage, if necessary. Don’t leave pet food outside. Enjoy the wildlife in your yard, but remember to keep your distance.