Making a variety of habitats available will ensure that diverse bird species
will add your property to their feeding routes or perhaps even nest in your
yard. An article in the Eaglestar.net Land and Property Review, Volume 1, Issue 5 describes the components of habitat that are
necessary for wildlife survival and how to include those components on your
property. If you wish to review this article, you can find it at
Animals (humans included!) require food, water, shelter, and space in order to
live. The need for food and water are obvious. Shelter provides both a place to
raise young and protection from predators or the elements. If you provide these
things in ways birds can easily use them, you will attract both a diversity and
abundance of bird species. The type and amount of space available tend to
dictate competitive interactions among animals. Non-predatory birds get along
pretty well at the feeder; making sure there is enough vertical space (trees
and shrubs) nearby for resting and roosting is usually all that is required.
Water should be made available in bird baths or shallow tubs or dishes. Keep
the level relatively low, no higher than a couple of inches, so that small
birds can easily bathe. Change the water at least every three days to keep it
clean and free of algae, mosquitoes and parasites. Placing the water container
on an elevated surface, such as a tree stump or table, or hanging it from a
tree will allow the birds to see approaching predators. Try to keep the water
shaded, if possible. If your state allows it, a graywater system is a great way
to re-use water for the benefit of plants and birds alike. If you choose to do
this, carefully consider what chemicals you put in the water (shampoo, soap,
cleaning agents, etc.). You will have to switch to biodegradable versions of
all these, which requires some careful label reading.
Food can be most easily provided by planting a variety of flowers, grasses,
trees, and shrubs. Trees or shrubs that produce nuts (known as mast in the
world of wildlife science) are great choices, as are plants that produce
berries or other fruit. Any plant that attracts insects is a good choice, since
many bird species feed primarily on insects. Include flowers that give nectar,
which will attract both hummingbirds and insects that use these types of
plants. Columbines and other buttercup family plants, snapdragons, and
penstemon are both beautiful and functional in this regard. You can also
supplement landscaped food sources with bird feeders. Many types of small birds
will use finch feeders filled with seed. A suet feeder filled with suet cakes
provides high-energy sustenance to birds of all shapes and sizes. Don't forget
birds that prefer the ground, like quail. You can feed these types of birds by
spreading some seed on the ground, or by using quail blocks or other blocked
Shelter is usually provided using both landscaping and birdhouses. Be aware
that only bird species that nest in the natural holes in trees (appropriately
called cavity nesters) will use birdhouses. Cavity-nesting species include
bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and flycatchers; these
types of birds are usually insectivorous (they eat insects). Other birds, such
as jays, robins, and hummingbirds, prefer to build cup-shaped nests in trees or
shrubs or under the eaves of buildings. Still other species like the junco
conceal their nests on the ground, or simply lay their eggs on the ground
without ever building a nest at all, as is the case with nighthawks. Thick
ground plants, such as native bunch grasses, provide good cover for
ground-nesters. Evergreens or thick shrubs provide good nesting habitat for
cup-nesters, which can be supplemented with open-style nest boxes or platforms.
If you install birdhouses for cavity-nesters, vary their heights between 5 and
8 feet from the ground. Different birds prefer to nest at different heights.
In many areas, loss of natural habitat due to human development is a huge
problem for birds and other wildlife. Providing habitat in your yard helps to
counteract this trend, and can provide hours of bird-watching enjoyment for
your family and guests. For more information, visit the following websites:
USDA Forest Service booklet on cavity-nesters:
Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/review
One of the joys of owning real property is being able to view wildlife right in your own backyard. Rural properties generally attract more wildlife in terms of both abundance and variety, but city-dwellers and suburbanites can also easily enjoy this rewarding pastime. The key to attracting wildlife to your property, no matter where you live, is creating as many diverse components of habitat as you can.
Habitat is the physical environment that will support the life of a plant or animal. Willdlife habitat is no different from human habitat - we all require the same basic things to survive. There are some components of habitat that you can control to influence what sort of animals use or live in your yard. All animals need water, food, and places to take cover and rear their young. By thoughtfully planning your backyard wildlife habitat, you can enjoy years of wildlife watching even if your yard space is relatively small.
The simplest way to begin planning your wildlife viewing area is to figure out which plants are desirable to wildlife in your region. Select species for planting, with the idea that a variety of plants will attract a variety of wildlife. Flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. Fruit and nut trees provide sustenance for a variety of creatures. Many birds feed on insects; to attract them, create habitat desirable for insects. You can do this by using mulch, composting, and leaving some dead vegetation (such as fallen leaves) on the ground. Agricultural extension offices, universities and community colleges, and local nurseries are great resources to help you figure out what animals are in your area and which plants they desire.
Remember that plants provide much more than food, so try to include shrubs or trees that provide cover and nesting habitat. Even a potted shrub on a concrete patio can provide enough cover to entice certain animals. Evergreens are a great choice for shrubs or trees, because they provide cover year-round. Grasses and small shrubs can provide cover, nesting habitat, and food for birds, amphibians, and small mammals.
Water is also very important, which you can furnish by installing birdbaths or small ponds. Water is especially crucial in the winter. To keep water from freezing, leave a piece of wood in it. If it still freezes, you may need to add additional water or thaw it to keep the animals coming. Place water sources in the open with protective cover close by, so that the wildlife can spot approaching predators and escape if necessary.
When planning your backyard wildlife habitat, place food and water features so they can be seen from windows, decks, and patios. These are the places wildlife congregate and are most visible. Make sure you provide protective cover nearby, however. Predators abound, from bobcats and red-tailed hawks in the high-desert mesas of the Southwest to wolves and mountain lions in the American and Canadian Rockies to black bears and coyotes throughout the United States. Even if you live in the most urban of environments, wildlife killers still lurk. The common housecat is responsible for a surprisingly high percentage of overall wildlife deaths.
Creating your own backyard wildlife habitat and viewing areas can be rewarding in more ways than one. In an era of increasing fragmentation and destruction of wildlife habitat, providing a place for animals to eat, drink, rest, and reproduce is invaluable in itself. A little research and planning can go a long way toward ensuring that you and your guests are able to enjoy the serene experience that is wildlife watching. According to the National Wildlife Federation, you will most likely increase your property value, as well.