By Deb Young
Your backyard can become a miniature wildlife refuge, attracting many different kinds of wild animals. Songbirds, rabbits, frogs, squirrels, and butterflies are the most common.
To be a haven for wildlife, your yard must provide the basic needs of the animals: cover, water and food.
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.
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.
Birds often seek water not only for drinking but also because it attracts the insects they eat.
Water can be provided in a number of ways. A suspended birdbath will protect birds from cats and other predators. A dripping hose or shallow dish placed near bushy cover can supply water for small mammals.
The best way to ensure that you will meet a wide range of needs is to plant and encourage a wide variety of plant species. A flower garden will provide food for butterflies, honeybees, and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds will also use special feeders filled with sugar water or commercial hummingbird nectar. Grasses that are not mowed will provide seeds for many species of small mammals and birds. Plant a combination of plants that will provide nuts, seeds, mast, fruits, berries, and flower nectar to meet the needs of a wide variety of wildlife. Plants also attract insects, worms, and spiders which, in turn, act as food for other wildlife.
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.
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.
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.
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 results.