Creating Backyard Habitat
Watching wildlife close to one's home is popular in Arkansas, with an estimated one of every three Arkansans participating in this activity (National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation).
We have many reasons for wanting to attract wildlife to our yards, whether for beauty and aesthetics, getting "back to nature," relaxation, or enjoying the antics and diversions that wildlife provide.
When creating or enhancing habitat around your home, consider these questions. Why do you want backyard habitat? Are there particular wildlife species you want to attract? Your answers will help determine the specific types of habitat that you need.
Whatever your particular interest, success at attracting wildlife to your yard generally follows the three D's - diversity, design, and diligence. By following the three D's, you'll be well on your way to attracting wildlife to your yard.
Many wildlife species rely on a diversity of habitat to survive. Variety is key to establishing good habitat. The more variety your yard or neighborhood can provide in a small area, the more wildlife you can expect to attract. Diversity includes providing all the habitat components that wildlife need in your yard - food, water, shelter, and nesting habitat.
Food sources. Food can be provided in a variety of ways. As you look around your property, think like the wildlife you want to attract. Is there enough food year-round to meet their needs? Are there flowers for nectar, weeds for seeds, shrubs and trees for fruit or acorns? Nectar plants, such as butterflyweed, butterfly bush, cardinal flowers, asters, and zinnias, attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Even "weeds" such as goldenrod, chicory, pokeweed, thistle, and honeysuckle are beneficial nectar producers. Clovers can provide sustenance for cottontails. Leaving leaves, mulching plants, using compost, and minimizing pesticide use benefits those wildlife species which rely on insects and invertebrates as food.
- Artificial feeders. Do you need artificial feeders to attract birds, squirrels, deer, or butterflies? For birds, the types of feeders and seeds you provide will attract certain species. Oil sunflower seeds attract cardinals, chickadees, purple finches, goldfinches, white-throated sparrows, and even woodpeckers. Sunflower chips, husked peanuts, or hulled seeds may be an option for apartment dwellers where discarded hulls could create a problem. Fruit such as raisins, orange halves, grapes, and apples attracts mockingbirds, orioles, catbirds, and tanagers. Suet and mealworm feeders attract woodpeckers and bluebirds, respectively, as well as raccoons and other wildlife species. Corn feeders attract deer and squirrels, though be careful about attracting too many! They may also eat your preferred landscape plantings and raid bird feeders.
Water sources. Water is important for drinking, bathing, even egg-laying for frogs, toads, and insects. Water depth of 1/2" is needed for smaller birds, while larger birds can use 1" to 2" depth. Placement of feeders and water sources should be carefully considered, such that there is enough open space to see an approaching predator, yet protective habitat is available close by. Wildlife need water in the winter as well. Keep a piece of wood in the water to prevent freezing and thawing actions from cracking your birdbath or other water container.
Cover or shelter. In your yard, also consider that wildlife need shelter for protection against, rain, snow, ice, sun, wind, and predators. Dense evergreens, large broad-leaved shrubs and trees, thick grasses, and brushpiles provide protective cover for a number of birds and mammals. Mockingbirds build nests in shrubs, while barn swallows use barns, outbuildings, or open garages as places to construct their mud nests. You can expand your nesting habitat with artificial nest boxes for songbirds, bats, and owls. Several key factors make a good birdhouse. It should be built of wood, have an entry hole at least 6" above floor, have an overhanging roof to keep rain from the entrance, contain ventilation holes or slits, provide an easy way to open for cleaning, have a hook or devise to hang the box, be the right dimensions for the species of interest, and be placed in the proper location for the species you're attracting.
Besides diversity, designing your yard properly will benefit wildlife and improve viewing opportunities.
- Design your yard to create vistas for seeing wildlife near windows and decks.
- Place feeders and nest boxes in locations that are visible from your home.
- Use varied heights of vegetation, with taller shrubs and trees placed around the border of your yard.
- Plant multiple species of plants. Create natural effects by planting in groups of 3, 5, or 7.
- Design curved (not straight) borders.
- And be sure to plan for year-round beauty and habitat needs.
Be diligent in maintaining your habitat.
- Some plantings may die and need to be replaced.
- "Weeding" may be necessary to control successful plantings which, without thinning, could take over the yard.
- Bird boxes need to be cleaned.
- Water needs to be periodically drained and containers sanitized.