Creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Wildlife Habitat Pic

Last week, I shared information from the two classes I attended during the 2014 Carolina Yard Gardening School in March (If you missed any of the posts last week, see the links at the end of this article). This week, I’ll share information I learned during the two workshops I attended there. The first workshop taught us about creating a wildlife habitat in your backyard. Although the concentration was on birds, the instructor also included information on other wildlife as well.

As gardeners, we already love nature. Why not add song birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees to our backyard gardens? It will not only bring us pleasure, but it will actually help our gardens – with fertilization and pest reduction.

WHAT IS NECESSARY TO CREATE A WILDLIFE HABITAT

No matter what type of wildlife you wish to draw to your yard, you will need to provide four basic things.

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter/cover
  • Nesting places (to raise young)

In the process of creating your wildlife habitat, you may want to also incorporate things necessary to certify your backyard habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. Check out their website for more information.

The majority of the information I learned was about inviting song birds and hummingbirds into your backyard space. For information on drawing bees and butterflies to your yard, please see my articles, “Attracting Pollinators: Bees” and “Attracting Pollinators: Butterflies.”

FOOD FOR SONG BIRDS:

The food you provide for song birds can be natural (via the plants you grow in your yard or the insects found there) or through feeders. Examples of natural food are acorns, pecans or other nuts, seeds, berries, or flowers. For example, blue jays like acorns (which you can crush and put in your bird feeders), and cedar waxwings and robins like holly berries.

In addition to natural food, you can provide seed in bird feeders in your yard. However, you will need to be sure that you put out good seed. Birds don’t like old seed and will feed only on fresh seed. The best general seed blend to get should be rich in sunflower seeds, preferably shelled. Also, avoid seed blends that contain milo, oats, red millet, or too much corn or white millet.

In order to draw different types of birds to your yard, you should put out a variety of feeder types, hung at different heights.

TYPES OF BIRD FEEDERS:

  •  Platform/tray feeders: Lots of different birds will feed from this type of feeder. Provide them with seeds, acorns, pecans, special fruit treats (raisins or dried cranberries), suet nuggets, and crushed egg shells.
  • Hopper feeders: This feeder will hold more seed than a tray feeder. SOME millet is ideal for tray or hopper feeders. Chickadees like to feed at tray or hopper feeders.
  • Seed tube feeders: These are wonderful for small birds like sparrows or finches. Cardinals will NOT feed from this feeder because they feed facing forward, which is not possible with this type of feeder.
  • Specialty feeders:
  1.  Thistle (Nyjer) feeder: Put up this type of feeder from Thanksgiving through March/April. These are great for goldfinches (use a mesh nyjer feeder). This type of feeder can get moldy, so clean well after a rain and fill with new thistle.
  2. Fruit/Jelly feeder: Put up this type of feeder from Thanksgiving through March and fill with oranges and jelly. Baltimore orioles love grape jelly, but be aware that they can be aggressive against other birds.

No matter what type of feeder you use, keep it clean and the seed fresh. If it’s a large feeder, it’s best to not fill it all the way and refill it more often than to fill it to the top and have the seed go bad.

Mealworms are one other treat that you can put out for the birds. They will attract common and uncommon birds, and are a favorite of bluebirds. If you wish to provide mealworms, it’s best to buy them live (and keep them in a refrigerator until you put them out). They will eat the dried mealworms, but they won’t get the hydration that live worms provide them.

FOOD FOR HUMMINGBIRDS:

There are many flowering plants you can grow that will draw hummingbirds. (See my article, “Attracting Pollinators: Hummingbirds.”) They eat gnats and small insects, too, which your garden is sure to provide! You can also put out nectar feeders for them. If you live in the Southeast, put the feeders out in March.

Nectar feeders should be kept very clean and the nectar changed 2-3 times per week, especially in the summer. You can make your own nectar with one part sugar in four parts water (without food coloring or dye). Keep the nectar in the refrigerator and put only small amounts at a time in your feeder.

WATER FOR YOUR BACKYARD WILDLIFE HABITAT

Water should be provided in your yard all year long, not just in the summer. You can add water in different ways:

  • Birdbaths
  • Ponds with rock ledges and lily pads
  • Drippers & misters
  • Fountains

Birdbaths should meet the needs of birds by being shallow – no more than 2-3 inches in depth. Keep the water moving with a water wiggler. (You can get solar powered ones that are pretty good.) You can add a dripper or mister to your water feature, too.

Bees and butterflies also need water. Here’s a great article on how to provide water for bees.

SHELTER FOR YOUR BACKYARD WILDLIFE HABITAT

Shelter is not the same as housing, which is a place to raise young. Shelter is a place to hide from predators, a place to feel safe. Types of shelter are:

  • Plants – large plants or a group of plants or tall grasses grown together
  • Ground covers
  • Hollow logs
  • Small holes in stone or brick walls
  • Layered fencing
  • Dead trees
  • Wood piles
  • Holes in trees
  • Yard art

If a bird feels safe in your yard, he is sure to visit it often.

NESTING PLACES FOR YOUR BACKYARD WILDLIFE HABITAT

Birds will nest in natural cavities, such as holes in a tree, or in nesting boxes (bird houses) we provide them. Some of the places in the shelter list can also be used as a place to raise young. Of course, we can add nesting places by setting up bird houses or nesting boxes.

Some birds, like chickadees and bluebirds, need man-made nesting boxes to raise their young. For bluebirds, my personal favorite, the house should be four to six feet off the ground. Bluebirds are territorial, so only one bluebird house is needed. (Though you can have houses in your yard for other types of birds.) Also, add a metal ring to the hole. (I discovered a squirrel eating around the hole of my bluebird house this past winter, and he was able to get inside. Yes, the house has been thrown out and a new one is going up this week.)

As a note, decorative bird houses are not good for most birds. Plain wooden houses that are the correct size and have the proper-sized holes are best.

Whatever type of birdhouse you erect, remember to clean it thoroughly after each nesting season so that you can enjoy new bird families year after year.

MORE 2014 CAROLINA YARD GARDENING SCHOOL ARTICLES:

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Share with us in the comments below how you have created a welcoming environment for wildlife in your backyard.

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