Gardening for wildlife is a fun and easy way to enjoy birds and butterflies in your backyard.
When considering gardening for wildlife, it doesnt matter the size of your property. Most of us work in our urban gardens surrounded by neighbors. An apartment balcony window box planted with nectar producing flowers that attract butterflies might seem insignificant in comparison to a 40-acre woodlot, but it is the sum of the parts that is important.
Four components go into making up good backyard wildlife habitat: food, water, cover and places to raise young. Determining the scale of your garden and which species of wildlife you might want to attract is key. Small residential areas may not be the best habitat for deer, raccoons or other large animals, and your neighbors might not appreciate the deer munching on their shrubs.
Food. Often what comes to mind for feeding wildlife are bird feeders, and these are an easy way to attract to various species of birds. There are numerous types of seed mixes and feeders on the market, and a lot of research has gone into what types of birds feed on certain seeds. I have several platform and tube feeders placed on the edge of my yard, and a hummingbird feeder hanging close to my office window. I also plant a lot of nectar producing shrubs and flowers to attract insects, butterflies and birds; and I include host plants that the butterfly caterpillars feed on. Although I try to plant native trees, shrubs and flowers to which the local wildlife are well adapted to, I might substitute some ornamentals that serve the same purpose. Of course, some of these plantings also provide cover and nest sites for wildlife.
Water. Though I would love to have a small pond with a recirculating pump in my yard that probably isnt going to happen. I do have a small bird bath built into nest of rocks. The rocks provide a more natural looking background for photography, and they create a small cascade as water from a 1/8 irrigation line feeds the bath. Birds are not the only wildlife attracted to this feature, tree frogs and small mammals also frequent this oasis.
Cover. All wildlife needs a place to hide or seek shelter. Predatory birds such as sharp-shinned or Coopers hawks can find good hunting at bird feeders placed out in the open. Having multi-layers of vegetation, from low shrubs to tall trees, will provide cover for wildlife, as well as screening for shade or privacy. I hear many species of birds singing from the ponderosa pines in my backyard; a few even nest in their protective limbs.
Places to raise young. Again, the easiest thought here is for the birds. Putting up nest boxes or an old snag can attract a variety of cavity nesting birds such as nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, swallows, woodpeckers or bluebirds. The protective confine of eaves or overhangs might induce finches, robins or barn swallows to build their nests under cover. There are also bee, bat and butterfly boxes that can be made or purchased to provide nest or roosting sites for those creatures in your yard.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) celebrates May as National Gardening for Wildlife Month. In addition to encouraging eco-friendly backyard gardening for wildlife and their habitat needs, the NWF also encourages gardeners to sign up for their Certified Wildlife Habitat program for school or home gardeners. Certifying ones yard is a great way to show your commitment to gardening for wildlife.