Habitat loss is one of the greatest factors contributing to the extinction of species on this planet. Depending on what part of the country you live in your backyard wildlife could include gopher tortoises, rabbits, deer, bobcats, foxes, hawks, squirrels, armadilloes, and raccoons, not to mention the huge number of bird and butterfly species that help add color and song to backyard landscapes.
To help preserve the beauty of our land, we need to insure that our landscapes help to restore some of the wildlife habitat that is being taken away by our ever growing population. Their presence in our landscape is it’s own reward. Anyone who has woken up to the call of a hawk or caught a quick glimpse of a visiting bobcat or watched the miraculous transformation of caterpillar to chrysallis to butterfly will agree with me. However, there are also several organizations that recognize those who restore habitat to their yards, such as the National Wildlife Federation with its Certified Wildlife Habitat Program. Most of these programs agree that the four basic elements necessary for any “Wildlife Friendly” landscape are food, water, shelter and places to raise young. These elements can be provided in a variety of ways, but most of them can be supplied by choosing the correct plants or natural structures.
Plants: Plants can be both host and larval foods for butterflies; can produce wildlife food sources such as acorns, nuts, berries and seeds; or can attract insects which are food for birds or reptiles. Native plants are, logically, the best choice for native (local) wildlife. At the same time, native plants require less fertilizer, water and pest control which help to prevent storm- water contamination.
Feeders: Supplemental food sources can be supplied by using feeders for birds or even squirrels.
Other Creatures: In any wildlife habitat, some creatures inevitably become food sources for other creatures. That caterpillar larvae that you have so lovingly watched from day to day is welcome food for many birds. Lizards, toads, birds, squirrels and small rabbits are all welcome food sources for larger birds and mammals. Although sometimes disturbing, this is normal activity in a healthy ecosystem.
All wildlife needs a clean water supply for drinking. Others use water to bath, clean their food or even breed. A water supply such as a lake, pond or wetland can be the most exciting element in your wildlife garden because of the wildlife it will attract. Supplemental water supplies can be added through the use of birdbaths or man-made ponds. Even shallow saucers of water placed on the ground or puddling areas will be welcome water supplies to low-level wildlife.
Shelter: Wildlife needs to find shelter from weather and other predators. Natural elements usually provide the best shelter. Dense trees and shrubs make excellent shelter for fleeing birds or small mammals. Rock piles, brush piles, and dense ground cover provide protection for reptiles, snakes and ground birds.
Places to Raise Young: Many of the same items that provide shelter also provide places for wildlife to raise their young. Mature trees, dense shrubs, fallen logs, hollow trees and dens in the ground are perfect nesting locations for many animals. Host plants are considered places to raise young for a butterfly garden. Supplemental items such as nest boxes and bat boxes can be added to a habitat. Most of these boxes must be made to specific sizes and hung at specific heights for the birds you would like to attract.