Developing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat
Starting a backyard wildlife habitat project is not difficult and can be very rewarding. There are four basic elements that are needed to attract and retain various wildlife to your yard – food, water, protective cover, and places to raise young.
Shrubs and trees provide fruits and seeds throughout the year for backyard wildlife. Some good choices are sweetgum, blueberry, sumac, bayberry, holly, viburnum, cotoneaster, and crabapple. Perennials and annuals can be planted to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Hummingbirds visit cardinal flowers, trumpet honeysuckle, bee balm, trumpet creeper, pineapple sage, and columbine. Good nectar sources for butterflies include butterfly weed, butterfly bush, lantana, purple coneflower, garden phlox, and zinnias. Be sure to supplement with hummingbird feeders in the summer and bird feeders year round. Provide a variety of seed for the birds, including sunflower, niger, safflower, and millet.
Water is essential for all wildlife. A pedestal-mounted birdbath adds a decorative as well as functional touch to the garden. Shallow birdbaths provide water for drinking and bathing. Placed on the ground, they may also be used by mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Water gardens provide a habitat for dragonflies, fish, frogs, and other aquatic life. In the winter, a birdbath heater provides water during this critical time.
Many evergreen trees and shrubs provide year-round protective cover from weather and predators. Good choices include juniper, yew, Austrian Pine, and hollies. Deciduous shrubs, such as red-twig dogwood, bayberry, viburnums, and cotoneasters, offer summer cover for nesting. Rock, log, and mulch piles can also offer cover to small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
Many of the same trees, shrubs, and plants that provide food and cover also provide places to raise young. Evergreens, deciduous trees, and shrubs provide nesting areas for birds. Nest boxes for bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, and purple martins can also be placed in your backyard. Rabbits and other small mammals as well as reptiles raise young in the rock, log, or mulch piles. Butterflies need host plants for food for caterpillars. Butterflies require very specific plants as host plants, and females will lay their eggs only on these plants. For example, you will only get monarch larvae if your garden contains milkweed. Larval host plants for other species of butterflies include parsley, carrots, dill, thistles, and willows.