How to Make Your Backyard Wildlife Friendly

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on March 26, 2013.

It’s that time of year again. Those of us at a greater distance from the equator — I’m north of the 49th parallel, myself — are starting to see hibernating squirrels and migratory birds return to our towns, cities and, most importantly, backyards.

It’s kind of amazing that you can live all your life surrounded by concrete, steel and glass, and still see wildlife all around you. In broad terms, the natural world is incredibly versatile. And I think we all take a certain joy in observing and interacting with our local ecosystem.

So how do you encourage some of your favorite species to visit your own patch of green — or even not-so-green — space more frequently? Here are a few simple tips.

1. Provide food

City-dwelling species always have their eye out for food sources, and the easiest and safest animals to attract are birds. Put out a bird feeder or simply spread seed on your balcony, ledge or lawn. If you do it at the same time each day, your yard will become a regular hotspot.

An apartment building near my workplace downtown has a kind of natural courtyard — a tiny patch of grass, walk-in closet-sized, which enclosed by bushes and a depression in the building itself. Someone spreads seeds there every morning, and it’s absolutely filled with songbirds. I love walking by that spot, and the birds — visible, but safely partitioned behind the leafless tangle of bushes –  have learned to ignore the constant foot traffic, allowing us to enjoy the show.

In England, it’s not uncommon for citizens in rural areas to feed foxes, natural omnivores. Though I see the odd fox near my home at the city outskirts, I wouldn’t leave food out for one. I worry that attracting more foxes to the area would just lead to collisions with cars.

Rabbits will be attracted by lettuce, carrots and other veggies. Make sure there’s an easy way in and out of your garden if you have dogs or cats — don’t let your pets corner your local bunny population!

And don’t forget nectar for hummingbird feeders. Here’s an easy recipe, but make sure you use real sugar — and leave the food coloring out. Artificial sweetener can harm hummingbirds.

2. Make animals feel at home

If you have land that you are free to cultivate, consider planting trees as a long-term project to attract squirrels and chipmunks. My dogs can’t stand the rodents, but I love watching them. If you want these creatures to actually move in to your neighborhood, you’ll need to plant a diverse mix of mast-producing trees and shrubs – those that produce nuts, berries and other favorite wildlife snacks. Oak tress, which produce acorns, arethe most important for the squirrel family.

What about insects? You’ll find insects — and arachnids, and gastropods — almost without trying, but you can also attempt to attract specific kinds. Create a waystation for monarch butterflies by planting milkweed. Monarchs migrate between Mexico and Canada each year in an amazing journey.

Berry-producing shrubs are great for attracting bird life. They’ll grow faster than a tree — and unlike a seed-feeder, shrubs require no refilling or active maintenance on your part, besides occasional pruning. Pick almost any type, and there’s sure to be a bird that eats it — as long as it doesn’t have highly-toxic berries or happen to be an introduced invasive species.

Even out of season, small birds love to perch on the matrix of twiggy branches. I’ve seen finches and chickadees by the dozens in these open bird cages, happily socializing and hopping around, with no apparent food source to attract them.

Birdhouses are great, but you can also attract birds during the day by providing a bird bath. Any concave surface that can hold an inch or two of water will do just fine. Take a few moments to wash it out and replenish with clean water each day if possible. You can set your bird bath on a balcony or a window ledge if you don’t have access to ground-level green space. In fact, birds may prefer these locations to the ground, where cats and other predators may hunt them.

Hummingbirds will also appreciate a variety of nectar-rich flowers to sip from. Plant them in a safe place that also gives you a good angle for viewing them.

3. Create a protected area

Avoid loud machines or toxic emissions. Don’t use a lot of pesticides or herbicides in your yard. Consider keeping your cat indoors to protect birds, snakes and chipmunks. Don’t use a bug-zapper — or, if you must, make sure it won’t kill small birds or rodents. The last thing you want to do is attract wildlife only to find their small corpses littered about your property.

On that oddly macabre note, happy species-spotting!

Related stories:
The Five Best (and Worst) U.S. Cities For Urban Gardening
Activists to Use Drones to Nab Illegal Badger Hunters
The U.S. is Spending Your Money Killing Innocent Wildlife

Photo Credit: Scott Johnson/Unsplash

658 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thanks

SEND
Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

TYFS

SEND
Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

TY

SEND
Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 months ago

Thanks

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Tfs

SEND
KimJ M
KimJ M6 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

SEND