With global environmental concerns becoming more prevalent, one way you can help is by providing habitat for some of our most vulnerable residents–our wildlife. Improving your lawn for birds, insects, and small mammals will invite nature back into our cities and make our urban and suburban environments better places to live.
With a little planning, we can provide living space for those displaced by urban sprawl. Just imagine sitting on your porch and observing hummingbirds skipping from flower to flower; a woodpecker drumming a tree; squirrels chasing each other up and down an oak tree; and winter colors enhanced by red, green, and white as a mockingbird eats the red berries from an evergreen shrub.
Planting wildlife-friendly trees, shrubs, and perennials are essential to creating a backyard wildlife habitat. Attracting wildlife requires that you think beyond traditional and contemporary landscaping techniques, as these do not normally meet the needs of wildlife. So, when planning, consider that wildlife has four basic requirements for survival: food, water, cover, and space. It sounds simple enough, but you will need to do a little planning to develop a landscape plan which provides these elements.
Food - The types of wildlife you plan to attract will determine what types of food you should provide. You can provide basic food requirements naturally through landscaping with plants that produce berries, nuts, and seeds–as well as supplement with artificial feeders. When selecting plants for your landscaping, be sure to choose an assortment with fruits and nuts which mature at different times so that your wild friends will have available food sources year-round.
Water - It is also important to remember that with the need for food, comes the need for a good water source. Whether a pond provided by nature or an artificial water source, water is an essential component of your backyard habitat. Water will attract insects and provide a rich source of food for many species of wildlife.
Cover and Space - It can be a challenge to create habitat in the form of cover and space in your backyard. There are those that see cover as something “messy.” Many feel that the standard for urban beauty is a well-manicured, “uncluttered” lawn. Often it is simply a lack of education. Before proceeding with your plans, it may be helpful to share your ideas with neighbors. If efforts to communicate are not successful, an alternative is to use a tall fence or screening to block the neighbors’ view of your project. By providing artificial homes for waterfowl, bats, and bluebirds, or nesting areas for wood ducks, you are enhancing the chances that these species will take up residence there.
Keep in mind that managing a backyard wildlife habitat is enjoyable, but some animals can become nuisances. Problems tend to arise when squirrels decide to visit your attic; blue jays become aggressive with other birds over food; or rabbits and white-tailed deer decide that your garden was planted just for them. By developing your own backyard wildlife habitat, you are doing your part for conservation.