While we often get callers wanting to rid their landscape of wildlife, it is just as common to get questions on landscaping for wildlife. We enjoy watching the birds and squirrels and listening to the owls and frogs at night. Even a tiny yard is capable of supporting a wildlife refuge. To make your yard a wildlife sanctuary, you simply need to provide the basic needs of our wildlife, which are similar to our own: cover, food and water.
Wildlife need a place where they may rear their young, rest and find protection from enemies or the weather. Different animals require different types of cover. Woodpeckers, squirrels and bats may find cover in dead trees (snags), while rabbits make nests in tall grasses (weedy) and brush piles. While attracting rabbits and small rodents with brush piles, remember you are also attracting predators like hawks and owls. Trees of varying heights and species attract a variety of birds. Not all landscapes have the room for many mature trees or snags, which should be located away from the house. When a variety of trees are not an option, there are plans available for nest boxes and houses for martins, bluebirds, owls, bats and others.
Water is necessary to sustain all life. You may modify your habitat to give wildlife plenty of shelter, but without water, those creatures won’t stick around. Aside from drinking it, wildlife also use water for bathing and as breeding sites for frogs, salamanders and other amphibians. Birds seek out water to find insects to eat.
Water can be supplied in a number of ways: Set up a dripping hose or a shallow dish near a brush pile for thirsty rabbits and other small mammals. Some homeowners have lined holes with plastic or set a small swimming pool into the ground to provide a pool for wildlife. Hanging a small water bath from a tree gives birds a place to drink, protected from predators on the ground.
While mosquitoes are a problem in stagnant water, insecticidal dunks that target mosquito larvae are available. A crafty water collector in Texas attached a small emitter from a rain barrel to provide a constant drip of water to small baths for wildlife. The slow drip keeps water moving, preventing mosquitoes from laying eggs. If mosquitos do become a problem, empty the bath of water.
This area is home to a variety of wildlife, which means a hospitable landscape should offer a variety of food options. Try to plant a combination of nuts, seeds, berries and flowers. Squirrels may prefer hickories, oaks, yellow poplars, wild plum, sweet gums and maples. They will bury the nuts and acorns in the fall then dig them up to eat in the winter and spring.
Many birds enjoy the seeds of grasses that are left unmowed. Winter birds prefer evergreens like holly and junipers, which provide food as well as shelter — evergreen and deciduous plants provide nesting sites, perching places and protection. Hummingbirds are attracted to colors like red and orange, especially tubular flowers like trumpet honeysuckle. While many birds also enjoy a tasty insect, reducing pesticide use may encourage more natural insect predators.
Before you begin to transform your landscape into a more hospitable environment for wildlife, take a look around and see what kind of wildlife you currently have. Make note of your plantings and the season in which they provide food. To encourage wildlife, remember that a place to take cover is essential, food should be available throughout the year and we all need a drink of water now and then.