Turn Your Yard into a Wildlife Habitat

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photo: Dan O'Connor

As soon as I bought my home, I started to think of how to attract wildlife. This was a pretty rural neighborhood then, brimming with lizards, quail, coyotes, jackrabbits, snakes and birds. Five new houses have since been built, people have moved into two vacant homes, and the animal populations have dwindled. Well, actually they just found decent habitat somewhere else.

In the meantime, though, I have learned how to attract them and keep them coming back to my yard.

How to create wildlife-friendly yards

Years ago, I helped my friend Gretchen landscape her new home. She was an avid bird watcher and had put up hummingbird feeders and others filled with sunflower seeds and thistle. We designed her acre to attract, feed and shelter other birds. We planted perennials and over 30 native shrubs, built a berm of rocks and recycled debris from around the yard created and a brush pile with scraps of tree trimmings. She strategically placed a few birdbaths and birdhouses around the yard.

Being a bird watcher myself, I have implemented a lot of her ideas in my yard over the years. I have fewer shrubs and more perennials than Gretchen does, and the garden is limited to the area right around the house. I have built up a couple of brush piles for shelter, put up nesting pockets, and, until I cleaned my yard to sell my house, I had a few dead trees (snags) standing.

I loved helping and watching the birds, and I wanted to do more for the other critters, so I bought books and googled for more info (I actually think Yahoo was the main search engine back then…).

Here is a list of plants that I have been using in Zone 5 in the southwest to encourage a wildlife habitat.

Perennials

  • columbine
  • bee balm
  • penstemon
  • hollyhock
  • aster
  • black-eyed susan
  • cone flower (echinacea)

Shrubs

  • trumpet vine
  • honeysuckle
  • currant
  • yucca
  • rose
  • silver buffaloberry
  • four-wing saltbush
  • fernbush
  • wild plum
  • western sand cherry

Trees

  • pinon
  • juniper
  • blue spruce
  • chokecherry
  • NM locust

And lots of sunflowers!

Creating your own certified wildlife habitat

I found this info on the National Wildlife Federation website. They will even certify your yard as wildlife habitat! Here are their requirements for certification.

All you need to do is provide elements from each of the following areas:

Food Sources
Seeds from a plant, berries, nectar, foliage/twigs, nuts, fruits, sap, pollen, suet, bird feeder, squirrel feeder, hummingbird feeder, butterfly feeder.

Water Sources
Birdbath, lake, stream, seasonal pool, ocean, water garden/pond, river, butterfly puddling area, rain garden, spring.

Places for Cover
Wooded area, bramble patch, ground cover, rock pile or wall, cave, roosting box, dense shrubs or thicket, evergreens, brush or log pile, burrow, meadow or prairie, water garden or pond.

Places to Raise Young
Mature trees, meadow or prairie, nesting box, wetland, cave, host plants for caterpillars, dead trees or snags, dense shrubs or a thicket, water garden or pond, burrow.

Sustainable Gardening
Riparian buffer, capture rain water from roof, xeriscape, drip or soaker hose for irrigation, limit water use, reduce erosion, use mulch, rain garden, control exotic species, and garden organically

Imitate natural eco-systems in your yard

Mainly, you want to imitate your ecosystem as much as possible. Go for hikes in natural areas, and pay attention to what the environment is like. Studying the ecology of your area is a wonderful education that you can implement at home for wildlife.

Along with studying the natural world around you, check with your county extension agent to find out what plants are native to your area. Always use native plants or those that are adapted to your area.

Benefits of inviting local wildlife into your yard

The most obvious benefit of creating wildlife habitat (in my eyes, anyway) is that you keep your ecosystem intact. All animals and plants have a place, no matter how much you may dislike them. Skunks eat rodents, lizards and bats eat bugs, and… I can’t think of a benefit of poison ivy, but there must be one! You can do your best for the planet by providing for all parts of the ecosystem.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.