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Attracting wildlife to your lawn or garden


Curt Wohleber
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-5409

Photo available for this release:

Goldfinch eating sweetgum seeds outside a home in Columbia, Mo.

Credit: Courtesy Randy Tindall

Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Story sources:

Robert A. Pierce II, 573-882-4337Nadia Navarrete-Tindall, 573-681-5392

Your Show-Me Garden: MU Extension brings you gardening tips from experts around the state.

COLUMBIA, Mo.– Suburbanites and city dwellers don’t have to drive to the country to enjoy viewing wildlife. A few simple additions and changes can make even a small backyard attractive to a greater variety of birds and other wildlife.

“Wildlife have four basic requirements—food, cover, water and space,” said Bob Pierce, University of Missouri Extension wildlife specialist.

You can help meet some of those requirements simply by putting out a birdbath, feeders and some nest boxes, but adding different types of native plants to your landscape will draw a more diverse range of birds, butterflies, native bees and other pollinators.

A mixture of trees, shrubs and flowering plants will provide different types of escape and nesting cover while supplying nuts, seeds and berries, Pierce said. Many of these plants also will draw insects for birds and other animals to eat.

Native plants generally work best because they are adapted to the local conditions, says Nadia Navarrete-Tindall, state native plants specialist for Lincoln University Cooperative Extension in Jefferson City. They tend to need less water and fertilizer, and cope better with pests, disease and drought. Native plants also will be more familiar to native wildlife.

Navarrete-Tindall suggests some native plants to turn your landscape into a welcoming wildlife habitat:

-Columbine and coral honeysuckle (not to be confused with the invasive Japanese honeysuckle) will attract hummingbirds in the spring. Trumpet creeper will keep them coming into the summer.

-Eastern red cedar, sumacs or sassafras will provide food and cover for birds such as robins, flickers, cedar waxwings and bluebirds. Sweetgum seeds are eaten by goldfinches.

-Common milkweeds produce strands of “silk” that orioles use to weave nests. Milkweeds also provide nectar for native bees and butterflies, and larvae of monarch butterflies feed on the leaves.

-Aromatic aster, sunflowers, compass plant and prairie dock provide a fall and winter food supply for finches, sparrows and other birds.

Many of these plants also will lure butterflies. Other flowers that draw both butterflies and birds include butterfly weed, bee balm, coreopsis and purple coneflower.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks, orioles and other fruit-eating birds will eat raspberry, blackberry, serviceberry, elderberry and many other berries.

If your property doesn’t have much in the way of trees and shrubs yet, brush piles can provide cover for birds and other small animals, though local ordinances may limit the size or location of brush piles, or forbid them altogether.

Another vital component of wildlife habitat is a permanent water supply, says Navarrete-Tindall. If you set up birdbaths, replace the water at least once or twice a week. Otherwise, the stagnant water will attract mosquitoes looking for a place to lay eggs.

A shallow artificial pond featuring gentle slopes, partially submerged rocks and vegetation within and around the pond can provide water for various birds as well as frogs, lizards and small mammals.

Navarrete-Tindall urges homeowners to limit use of pesticides, which can contaminate the wildlife’s food and water, and kill beneficial insects and spiders that birds and other animals feed on.

If you are especially interested in attracting certain species of wildlife, you may not be able to provide ideal habitat for other species, especially on smaller properties, Pierce notes. “Squirrels, for example, won’t get much benefit from a large open area, but it may help bluebirds that are feeding on insects.”

For ideas on tailoring your landscape for particular kinds of wildlife, Pierce recommends “Native Plants for Your Landscape,” a 12-page illustrated guide from the Missouri Department of Conservation. It is available as a free PDF download at

On June 20, 1-7 p.m., the MU Bradford Research Center in Columbia will host the annual Bobwhite Quail and Native Plant Field Day. The field day includes a walking tour showcasing Bradford’s native plant gardens. The research farm’s plant diversity, ponds and crop fields provide habitat for more than 175 kinds of migratory and resident birds as well as a large and colorful variety of pollinating insects.

For more information about the field day, go to or call Bob Pierce at 573-882-4337.

Other resources

Lincoln University Cooperative Extension’s Native Plants Program:

Grow Native!, a program of the Missouri Prairie Foundation that seeks to increase conservation awareness of native plants and their effective use in urban, suburban and rural developed landscapes: