When people think of attracting wildlife to their yard, they normally think of birds. However, all animals share the same basic needs. If they live in your area, attracting them to your yard can be easy. Song birds do have the advantages of being easy to observe, most are active during the day, and they do not mind people nearby watching them. Squirrels and urban deer are much the same way. Most other animals will avoid people, if possible. Still, by providing the right setting, you may occasionally catch a glimpse of fox or rabbit as it dashes into the brush.
There are four things that all animals need to have available to survive. They are: food, water, a place to nest or live, and safety. You do not necessarily have to provide all four of these ingredients to attract wildlife, but all must be accessible. Providing food and water may be adequate if adequate nesting or living sites are close. I have found that when water is scarce, a bird bath will attract birds that never visit my feeder. Providing any or all of the essential elements within your landscape design is a simple matter if you plan for it.
Food – Everything needs to eat. Attracting some birds is simply a matter of putting out a feeder and filling it regularly. However, there are many types of birds that will not use a feeder and you may want to attract other types of animals. You will benefit from some brief research to familiarize yourself with the eating habits of the animals that you would like to attract. For instance, Butterflies and Hummingbirds need nectar that can be provided either by the flowers that decorate your yard or from a special feeder. Woodpeckers primarily eat bugs found on trees and will use suet, particularly in the Winter when the insect supply is low. Berry producing shrubs are particularly good for a variety of birds and many small mammals. Even the seed eating song birds have preferences and different feeder mixes will attract different birds.
The primary landscape considerations are to incorporate plants used by the animals that you wish to attract or provide an area for feeders. If you plan to use bird feeders, they need to be placed where you can easily watch visitors, and where the birds will feel safe using them. Also, bear in mind that hulls and uneaten seeds will accumulate under the feeder.
Water – This can be a critical element. The easiest way to provide water is to put out a bird bath and keep it full. It must be in an area where its users feel safe using it. Typically, this means an open area where an approaching predator, like a cat or dog, can be seen. An alternative to a bird bath could be a fountain or pond, perhaps containing some fish. Again, to be effective, it must be open. If there is a stream that runs all year or other permanent source of water near by, you will not have to provide water.
Water tends to be a focal point. The size of the water feature that you use will decide how large an area it will affect. A small bird bath can accent a bed or secluded spot. A fish pond may dominate a whole section of your yard. What ever you use, design it into the total plan so that it fits naturally.
Living Area – Places for animals to live and raise their young is an often overlooked need that is just as critical as any of the others. For a few birds and bats, a nesting box may do the trick. The box should be built and hung for a particular species as each has its preferred height, size, and style.
Beyond boxes, most small animals, including many birds, like to live in dense brush that provide safety from predators. Hedges and screens can often provide just this setting. Should these plants be thorny, such as Roses or Gooseberries, so much the better. Often these shrubs also provide food for their residents.
Safety – Different animals have different ways to avoid their predators. Typically birds fly away, deer run, tree squirrels climb trees, and ground squirrels run down their burrows. All are constantly aware of the risks they take from their every action and will minimize potential danger whenever possible. An important part of attracting wildlife is minimizing the risks required to visit or live in out yard. The best feeding and watering areas are those that allow animals a wide view of approaching predators and an escape route when necessary. Nesting areas must be especially secure. Safety should be considered when designing any of these areas.
Another consideration is the number and type of predators. Dogs and deer do not usually mix; deer will avoid areas with dogs. Birds avoid areas with too many cats.
Including wildlife into your landscape is most easily done during the initial planning. You should consider the rest of your neighborhood, as with the rest of your design, to provide any of the important wildlife needs that are missing. However, unlike plants and other landscape features, you cannot force animals into your yard, you must coax them with appealing surroundings.
Wildlife of all types add an important dimension to your landscape. They bring it alive with colors, sounds, and movement unique to each individual. You can spend hours enjoying the antics and observing the behavior of the various creatures that visit. Getting to know these animals is a part knowing the land.