Attracting Wildlife To Your Backyard
Your backyard can become a miniature wildlife refuge, attracting many different kinds of wild animals. Songbirds, rabbits, frogs, bats, squirrels, and butterflies are the most common. But with careful planning and upkeep, you may find yourself watching raccoons, opossums, lizards, dragonflies, owls, and even white-tailed deer.
To be a haven for wildlife, your yard must provide the basic needs of the animals: cover, water, and food. The key to success is providing all of these elements in a suitable arrangement.
|II. Water And Food|
|III. Planning Your Backyard Wildlife Refuge|
|IV. Sources Of Information|
|Table 1. What To Plant|
Cover means more than shelter. It is
a place where an animal can escape from enemies, find refuge from
the weather, and feel secure while it rests. It also means a safe
place for raising young.
Different types of animals need different types of cover. The woodpecker and flying squirrel require dead trees. Rabbits make nests in tall grass and weedy areas. Deer like to spend the after noons in a secure shrubby area. You will attract more wildlife if you have a variety of cover types. A combination of trees, bushes, brushpiles, and rock piles gives the best results.
It is also very important to save some dying or dead trees (called "snags") on your property. Many animals, including owls and squirrels, use them as nest sites. Pick trees that are located away from buildings and utility lines to save as snags because they may fall.
A mixture of trees, of varying heights and species, attracts a variety of birds. If you do not have mature trees, nest boxes will attract some birds. Excellent plans are available for nest boxes and houses for martins, bluebirds, hawks, owls, wood ducks, flickers, and flycatchers, among others. You can build these your self or purchase them already constructed.
Bats consume great quantities of insects. For this reason, many people like to have them around their homes and gardens. Bats usually use hollow trees or attics for roosting. If these are unavailable, some types of bats will use specially designed boxes. Plans are available for building bat houses from your county office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System or by calling 334-844-1592. Ask for Extension Circulars ANR-622, "Bat Management In Alabama," and ANR-757, "Bats And Bat Houses."
Brush piles are attractive to cottontail rabbits, white-footed mice, weasels, box turtles, and white-throated sparrows. Rock piles are appealing to lizards, chipmunks, snakes, and cotton mice. Brush and rock piles are easy to build, but they must be built correctly . You can't just throw some rocks or branches in a pile and expect results. Piles should be constructed with large rocks or branches on the bottom and the smaller materials on top. This allows fast access for wildlife near the ground as well as good overhead cover once the animal is inside the brush or rock pile.
The amount of cover you can provide will depend on the size of your yard. Even the smallest yard can hold a bird box and a few bushes that provide shelter for smaller species of wildlife.
Water is critical if you want to attract
wildlife to your yard. Habitat that appears good may be unused
if no water is nearby. Water is necessary for drinking and is
sometimes used for bathing. It is also important as a breeding
site for frogs and other amphibians. Bats and birds often seek
water not only for drinking but also because it attracts the
insects they eat.
Most people know that different animals
eat different foods. However , many people don't think about
animals needing different foods at different times of the year.
Birds that feed primarily on seeds may switch to insects while
raising young in the spring. Chipmunks and bats have higher energy
requirements in the spring when they wake from winter torpor
(semi-hibernation) than at other times of the year. As the seasons
change, so do the needs of wild animals. If you want to attract
and hold animals year round, you need to provide the foods the
animals need in each season.
|autumn olive||wax myrtle|
|Virginia creeper||Japanese honeysuckle|
|oak (all species)||wild cherry|
Wildlife must have enough space to feed,
breed, raise young, and take cover. When considering the essential
items (cover, food, water) in your backyard wildlife refuge, you
also need to think about their arrangement. Plan carefully so
that you use the space you have in the most effective manner.
To maximize space, intermix areas of open grass, shrubby layers,
and taller trees.
While you are planning your yard, don't forget to plan places for yourself. For instance, place the watering or feeding device within view of a window. Put a bench in a quiet, bushy section of the yard. You can even build a small observation platform in one of your trees.
Even a tiny yard is big enough to attract some animals. Although a larger area can include a greater variety of food and cover types, the smallest balcony has potential for attracting some type of wildlife. A nest box, potted plants, water dish, and bird feeder will fit in a large window box and attract birds and butterflies. No matter what kind of yard you have, you have room for wildlife.
The first step in creating your miniature wildlife refuge is to survey your yard. Find out what is out there and determine its value for wildlife. Many ornamental plants are not particularly useful. Often native vegetation is best. Draw up a plan with graph paper. Consider whether you prefer to do the work yourself or hire a landscaping firm. Decide how much money you would like to devote to your project. When you have decided these major points, you can start planting and rearranging.
Remember, the end product will take time. You can expect wildlife as soon as you have provided all the basic needs, but the amount and type will depend on the variety of food and cover you have. It will also depend on where your house is located. Homes closer to the edges of town or in the country can expect more types of wildlife than those bordered by clipped lawns and concrete. However, even in the center of a city you will get some results.
For more information about
planning and constructing your backyard wildlife refuge contact:
Your county Extension office.
Your local library.
National Wildlife Federation
1412 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-2266
Alabama Wildlife Federation
P.O. Box 1109
Montgomery, AL 36102
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Division of Game and Fish
64 North Union Street
Montgomery, AL 36130
Published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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