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Backyard Landscaping for Wildlife
14 years ago
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Landscaping to Attract Birds

  • Our thanks for this article goes to the NebGuide published by the Cooperative Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Ron J. Johnson, Extension Wildlife Specialist and Carl W. Wolf, Outdoor Education Specialist, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission - Backyard Wildlife Planting for Habitat
  • Our thanks for this article goes to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Planting for Wildlife Habitat
  • If you're interested in how to obtain native plants please see this pamphlet from the US EPA website called the Natural Landscaping Resource List.
  • Here's another site with great information on the basics to attract birds
  • For a very informative look at the complete picture of backyard landscaping for wildlife
    Our thanks for this article goes to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
  • If you're looking for different types of native plants, see this very informative site:
    We thank Wildlife Web for this native plant information.
  • The following is a variety of native plants and shrubs suitable for almost any backyard:


    14 years ago
    The Needs of WildlifeMonarch butterflies on thistle
    photo: (c) U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Allen Montgomery

    Wild animals have four habitat ingredients required for its survival: food, water, breeding and nesting space, and shelter. Meeting these needs will surely attract wildlife to your backyard. But it is important to arrange or spread out these items suitably on an area of land large enough to support a breeding population. Otherwise, your backyard friends will not persist. Each species has its own requirements in terms of the four ingredients, but the following forms the basis for landscaping with wildlife in mind.

    Needs of Wildlife: Food

    Food needs vary from species to species. Some of your first additions to your backyard wildlife refuge should be bird feeders, along with shrubs, trees and flowering plants that produce seeds, fruits, nuts, pollen and nectar for a variety of animals throughout the year.

    Bird Feeders

    Black capped chickadee at feeder

    photo: (c) Mike Green, CZS

    More and more people are incorporating bird feeders of all shapes and sizes into their backyard landscapes. Any bird feeder enthusiast will tell you that feeders are one of the most rewarding elements in your backyard. Birds flock to these feeding sites throughout the year, especially when it's 10 degrees out. Place feeders in your yard where birds are protected from predators and weather. Feeding birds should have perching spots close by, but away from the house and near vegetation, for protection. To prevent the spread of disease, it's important to keep bird feeders clean. Use a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water to disinfect feeders, especially areas birds may touch when they feed. Let the cleaning solution soak for 10 minutes then rinse thoroughly. Allow feeders to dry completely before refilling them. Clean feeders at least once a month.

    Bird Delicacies

    One single food is usually not adequate for all species of birds. Incorporating an experimental feeder with several trays of different food is a great way of letting the birds select their own menu options. Luring birds with bakery products is usually effective, but being a conscientious food supplier means offering a range of nutritionally rich food choices once the birds have found their perch. A variety of mixtures that include different nuts, seeds, berries and fruits are available for purchase or you can make them from your own backyard. You may also want to supply birds with grit or crushed eggshells which help them digest their food. The eggshells also provide birds with calcium that they need particularly in the spring when they are getting ready to lay their eggs. Wild bird feed specialty stores are a good source of information about which seed mixes attract which species of birds in your area.

    Dinner Is Served

    Begin feeding when the first snow or extreme cold temperatures are expected. Food should be available continuously until at least April as your feeding station will attract more birds than it can naturally support. Keep a close eye on the amount of food that you supply. If there is excessive spillage on the ground, even more then ground eating birds and other animals can keep up with, you will want to cut back. This will prevent the food from spoiling or freezing. Likewise, store feed in containers that are both weather and rodent proof. To discourage squirrels and other animals from confiscating bird feed install a squirrel guard or metal circle below the feeder.

    Other Critters Need to Eat Too!

    Chipmunk munching

    Planting a variety of trees, shrubs and flowering plants will attract an array of animals to your backyard and keep them coming back for more. You can also feed squirrels and other critters with feeders and treats of their own, but make sure to place them in different areas of your yard, away from bird feeders. Take care not to place food in areas where it might encourage problem wildlife to take up residence in your home. In the section Landscaping With Native Plants you will find a network of information on the different items you can plant in your backyard that will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, insects and much more.

    Very Important: Please thoroughly rinse chlorine bleach/water cleaning solution from feeders and let dry completely before filling with feed.

    14 years ago
    Needs of Wildlife: WaterFrog on lily pads

    Water is a key element to your backyard habitat. Several sources of water can be added to your yard that are sure to please your critters. Use a pedestal birdbath, a shallow water dish located at ground level, or even a small pond. Any of these will provide the necessary water source for drinking and bathing and can also become an aquatic habitat for dragonflies, frogs and other aquatic life.

    Keep the Water Flowing

    The water source that you provide to birds and other animals should be reliable. To establish a habitat in your backyard, animals will depend on a clean, fresh and constant water source. Flush out old, stagnant water from your source with a hose and fill it up with new, fresh water. Clean the birdbath regularly, especially in warmer months, using a brush and a solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the birdbath before refilling it with fresh water. Keeping clean, fresh water available also prevents mosquitoes from breeding. It is critical to have water during the winter months when most of the natural water sources have frozen over and are inaccessible to wildlife. Electric immersion heaters constructed for bird feeders are helpful.

    The Noisier the Better

    Most wild birds will come from great distances when they detect the sound of moving water. Their acute senses draw them to the source like a magnet. Adding a mister, dripper or circulation pump to a birdbath or other source of fresh water will provide just the right sound to attract wild birds.

    Very Important: Please thoroughly rinse chlorine bleach/water cleaning solution from water sources and let dry completely before filling with fresh, clean water.

    14 years ago
    Breeding and Nesting SpacePurple martin birdhouse
    photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Bill French

    Clearing land for development has greatly reduced the number of nesting sites for cavity dwelling birds and other mammals and reptiles. If your yard lacks mature trees for nests and dens then plant some. As they mature, maples and oaks offer the necessary space for nests and dens. Evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs provide additional areas for nesting, as well as other materials that birds, mammals and reptiles can use.

    Box HousingChecking a bird box
    photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Ken Hammond

    If you don't have the space, create the space for wildlife. Provide functional nesting boxes and birdhouses for your feathered friends. Build a bat box and share your habitat with these beneficial creatures. They consume large amounts of mosquitoes and other flying insects. Learn how to build a bat box at You can also encourage beautiful butterflies and ladybugs to stay in your neck of the woods with hibernation boxes.

    The Rustic Look

    Sometimes it's as simple as leaving your yard a little rugged in order to attract wildlife. Therefore, you may want to think twice before cutting down that old decaying tree. Dead or decaying trees provide great nesting grounds and food for animals, such as woodpeckers. Hold off from mowing your lawn around bushy shrubs. This makes for an ideal nesting site for ground birds.

    14 years ago
    Needs of Wildlife: Shelter

    Shelter is an important ingredient for your backyard habitat. It transforms your yard into a haven where wildlife no longer just visits; they move in. Shelter is an important element for any habitat because it protects wildlife from the elements and from predators.

    Effective TechniquesShowy goldenrod clump

    In order to attract as many different kinds of animals as possible be sure to plant a variety of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants around open spaces. This will maximize the benefits of your backyard habitat throughout the year. Planting around open spaces, also known as the "edge effect" according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is very effective. Edges attract many different kinds of wildlife to the smallest piece of land and that is why this technique is so rewarding for homeowners. Another technique is called the "high-rise effect". Locate an open area known as the first story, then plant clumps of different sized shrubs known as the second story, add small to medium sized trees considered the third story and lastly, include tall trees referred to as the fourth story. Animals that are adapted to various habitats can live in close proximity with this technique.

    Take CoverSquirrel on branch.jpg

    Squirrels and most birds need trees and shrubs for shelter. Planting evergreen trees will provide year round coverage from weather and predators. Wild rabbits and some birds require thick areas of vegetation near the ground for hiding. Channel wildlife to areas where they will not cause conflict in or near your house. Avoid planting shrubs close to your house as wild animals stick close to shelter areas. Instead, create corridors of shelter around the perimeter of the yard. Don't forget the small critters like chipmunks, reptiles and insects. Rocks, logs and mulch piles make perfect shelters for these guys.

    14 years ago
    Planning Your Backyard HabitatViceroy butterfly
    photo: (c) LMF

    The first thing to do when planning your backyard habitat is assess the amount of space you have. Then figure out what plants already exist in your yard and what you would like to bring in from the Native Plant list. Lastly, decide what wildlife you would like to attract. Creating an outline of your yard on paper is very helpful. Don't worry you don't have to be an artist or an architect to do this, simply sketch in ideas that you would like to incorporate in your yard. This will help establish a basic blueprint for your backyard habitat.

    The Sketch

    First determine and sketch all permanent structures on your property like your house, patio, deck, walkways, underground obstructions and existing vegetation. Then, use copies or transparent overlay paper to make up a number of alternative designs.

    Secondly, consider the needs that you and your family have in your yard. Provide adequate space for entertaining, playing and household pets. If privacy is a concern draw in trees and shrubs so that they block off a busy street or a neighbor's garage.

    Finally, realize your yard's energy saving capabilities. Winter windbreaks positioned in the northwestern corner of your yard will reduce your heating bill. Decrease summer cooling bills with tall shade trees on the southwestern exposure of your house. Incorporate "green" insulation around the base of your house with evergreens.

    Refer to this example drawing for some "bright" ideas on how to sketch your new backyard habitat.

    Implement Your Design

    Whether you seek the help of a professional landscape architect or choose to do it yourself, realize that the development of your backyard habitat is usually a slow one. It takes a little time for native trees, plants and shrubs to establish themselves, especially if you are starting with seeds versus transplanting. But once your native landscape takes shape and you get your feeders, boxes and baths in place you can sit back and enjoy the serenity it brings to your life.

    14 years ago

    Native and Non-Native Plants

    Marsh milkweed

    photo: Marsh milkweed

    Almost all plants provide shelter or food in some way for wildlife. However, planting native plants in your backyard habitat will deliver more benefits to you and wildlife year after year. Native plants naturally adapt providing shelter and food to native wildlife more consistently, even in the most extreme weather climates including drought or freezing conditions. You'll find that planting native flowering species will provide an abundance of nectar, whereas non-native, novelty counterparts do not. Native plants are beautiful, hardy, much less expensive and easier to maintain, as well as beneficial to the environment. Once you have established your native habitat you will save time and money, as well as reduce air pollution by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment.

    Recognizing A Bully

    Garlic Mustard

    photo: Garlic Mustard

    Non-native plants, also known as invasive, exotic or weedy, are plants that have been introduced into an area where they did not originate or evolve from. Many European settlers brought non-native species with them when they came to America for many reasons, including medicinal and ornamental.

    Some non-native plants are aggressive and typically do not have any enemies or controls to prevent their spread. As these plants bully their way into complex native plant and wildlife communities things become more simplified. In the end, non-natives usually win the battle and eliminate most native plant species that make up native wildlife habitat.

    photo: Buckthorn

    Some common species that have crept their way into Illinois are purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) or glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). For a complete list of non-native species invading Illinois visit Forest Preserves and other natural resource agencies work hard at restoring and preserving native habitats. They implement such techniques like brush cutting and controlled burning to eliminate non-native, bullying species. But they need your help. Create a native backyard habitat and spread the word to your neighbors and friends.


    The Landscaping with Native Plants section of this Web site lists a variety of plants and shrubs suitable for almost any backyard. Not only will you discover what types of native plants you can add to your yard, you'll also learn what conditions are most suitable for each plant and whether your yard can provide for such conditions. Each plant draws in a number of wildlife, from butterflies and songbirds, to chipmunks, deer and beneficial insects.

    14 years ago
    Has anyone here done the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification?
    a bit more on trees specifically
    14 years ago
    Trees and Wildlife

    Well-selected trees nourish and protect wildlife. Which species among the following three would be the best tree for a native-plant wildlife garden?

    For feeding and protecting the wildlife in your backyard, it's hard to beat Eastern Red Cedar (or another species in the genus Juniperus that is native to your area). Eastern Red Cedars and other junipers are evergreen, and their dense branches provide excellent cover and protection from the elements year-round. A cluster of junipers can even be dense enough to shelter large animals like Mule Deer and Pronghorn antelopes. Junipers can harbor hibernating bats and other small mammals in winter; nesting birds in spring and summer (Cooper's Hawks, Mountain Bluebirds, Northern Flickers, Lewis's Woodpeckers, and many others); and roosting owls at any time. Twenty-seven different bird species have been recorded as nesting, in open nests or cavities, in Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis). In addition to cover, Juniperus species provide food. Many bird species, including the Cedar Waxwing -- which was named for this preferred food -- eat juniper berries or cones. Quail, grouse, turkeys, jays, woodpeckers, and thrushes are some of 90 bird species known to feed on Eastern Red Cedar. They are joined by rabbits, foxes, raccoons, mice, coyotes, and deer. Mule Deer, Elk, and Pronghorns browse on the foliage of Western Juniper. The Juniper Hairstreak and several other species of hairstreak butterflies utilize junipers as host plants for their caterpillars.

    Native oaks are superb wildlife plants as well, although perhaps a bit less versatile than junipers. They provide good nesting sites for birds and squirrels, and they tend to retain their leaves well into fall, providing extra cover and protection. Acorns are staples for many species of birds and mammals -- from jays to squirrels to black bears -- and the twigs, leaves, and bark feed others.

    The Horse-chestnut is a European species, planted for its beautiful spring flowers. Native Aesculus species, known as buckeyes, have the same showy flowers -- and all species have poisonous nuts. One native species, the Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) of the southeast, is a wonderful hummingbird plant, but for the most part buckeyes are not particularly attractive to wildlife.

    In addition to junipers and oaks, there are many other good native North American trees for the wildlife habitat. Native pines provide cover for owls and chipmunks, sap for sapsuckers, nesting cavities for woodpeckers, and pine nuts for many birds and mammals. Native fruit and nut trees, including cherries (Prunus), walnuts (Juglans), dogwoods (Cornus), hackberries (Celtis), and others are all excellent and handsome choices.

    Of course, all of this depends on a host of variables like your climate zone, the size of your landscaping area etc...but I throught I'd give a few suggestions.

    14 years ago

    Excellent info, Jenny!!!

    13 years ago

    Found another great article on this while searching for "providing salt for wildlife".  Some information may be the same as the info provided above - reinforcing its importance.

    Components of a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

    Wildlife need food, water, cover and space. To help you plan how to provide these in your backyard habitat, this fact sheet introduces you to 16 components. Eight are plant components and eight are non-living components. The more components you have, the better your chances of attracting diverse wildlife to your yard.

    The part about salt:

    Salt. Although some foods provide salt and other trace elements to wildlife, there are some species that seek out salt. Pine grosbeaks, moose and deer are examples. Be aware that during hunting season, it is unlawful to place salt or food out to entice deer, or to hunt from a blind overlooking the area.

    This post was modified from its original form on 30 Mar, 8:08

    This post was modified from its original form on 30 Mar, 8:08
    13 years ago
    Martha Stewart’s Property To Become A Certified Wildlife Habitat
    Filed under: green and famous, healthy living — michael @ 11:27 am

    martha.gifMartha Stewart has been busy on the green scene lately. Last Friday, as part of her Earth Day celebration, she had Josh Dorfman of The Lazy Envronmentalist on to showcase the latest in eco-friendly products. Today (April 23rd) her guest Dave Mizejewski, host on the Animal Planet’s Backyard Habitat, will designate Martha’s Bedford property as a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.

    Martha has assisted NWF with several projects and even sells some of their books at her online store. Not one to let an honor of this sort go without some kind of project tie-in, Martha and Dave will be creating and installing nesting boxes for owls on her property. Efforts like this are what NWF hope will allow them to reach 100,000 certified habitats by year-end.

    Congrats to Martha on her certification. If you’re interested in creating a wildlife habits of your own, please visit the National Wildlife Federation site for more information.


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