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Talk to anyone involved in the improvement of wildlife habitat and you will hear four words – food, water, cover, and space. These are the four essentials for wildlife. Without them you can have the best intentions in the world, but you won’t attract a wide variety of species to your property.

Cover & Space Essential Elements of a Wildlife Habitat For more nature habitat information Visit these helpful websites: A Plant's Home A Bird's Home A Homesteader's Home


hen it comes to wildlife, we automatically think about food and water, but cover needs are also critical for species survival. Usually our involvement with cover for wildlife ends with putting up a few bird nesting boxes. These are fine, and have the added benefit of being attractive and easy to place in the yard, but other kinds of wildlife require other types of shelter. Wildlife needs protection from both predators and harsh weather, a place to stay cool or warm in season, and a well-concealed location to raise a family. Trees are obvious additions to the landscape, particularly pines which retain their sheltering qualities throughout the winter. Letting the branches of evergreens – and deciduous trees during the summer – grow unpruned to the ground is an easy way to increase cover for a variety of small species. While we tend to be quick to remove dead trees, standing “snags" and fallen logs are invaluable for wildlife. They offer both shelter and food to over 40 species of birds and more than 20 kinds of mammals. In addition, by attracting insecteating wildlife, they indirectly serve to protect the living plants on your property. Leave Dead Trees If they are not threatening people or structures, or if they can be reinforced or moved to a safer location, letting dead trees remain part of your wildlife habitat will be of great benefit.

© WindStar Wildlife Institute

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A Plant's Home

Dead trees are only one example of “free" shelter that we remove when we manicure our yards. Mowing takes away the tall grasses that protect large numbers of birds and small mammals. Allowing a corner of the yard, or a strip along one edge of your property, to grow tall will help wildlife, while still retaining lawn areas for your family. Adding a fence, paths, or a bench can make this environment looked more planned and acceptable in neighborhoods with strict zoning regulations, as well as encouraging you to walk inside for a closer look. You can let naturallyoccurring vegetation grow tall enough to offer shelter, or you might want to think about creating a wildflower meadow for additional color and beauty. One of the best places to find diversity of wildlife is known as “edge," that area where different types of plant communities come together. This might involve an abrupt change, such as woods to tilled farmland; or a more gradual transition from woods to a tall grass and brush-filled field.

Whenever you can create this kind of environment, it will sustain the widest variety of wildlife. The same can be said of planting in “levels," from ground covers through shrubs, on into small trees and finally tall upper-story trees. Reduce Open Areas While maintaining open areas for your family, there are corner-of-the-yard additions that provide protective shelter, nesting sites, and escape routes for such creatures as rabbits, foxes, and woodchucks. Hedgerows of dogwood, honeysuckle, redbud, or wild cherry offer both shelter and food, as do thickets of roses or blackberries. If you have the space, field crops such as corn, grain sorghum, or soybeans are excellent. Brush piles are another possibility, and should be placed near the edge of woods, or at the edge of a pond with part of the brush submerged. They should be about 5 ft. high and at least 12 ft. in diameter.

Discarded Christmas trees are one source of brush pile material. The foundation should consist of large rocks or big logs which won’t decompose too quickly.

Rock piles or walls can be at the back of your lot, or in the center of a pond. They attract ducks and turtles, so avoid placing them near the edge of the water where those species would be more vulnerable to predators. Providing food and water sources close to any shelter feature will naturally make it even more attractive to wildlife. Space to Raise a Family As humans, when we think about desirable space, we tend to picture it wide and open. For us, it is more of a luxury than a necessity. While we can continue to exist, even if more stressfully, within limited space, this isn’t the case for wildlife. Each species has a minimum area that it requires for food, water, raising a family, and basic survival. This varies from very small habitats to large tracts of unbroken forest. While there can be two to four chipmunks per acre with a range as small as half an acre, ideally there will be only one to four raccoons per 47 acres, and their range can be almost two miles.

© WindStar Wildlife Institute

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A Plant's Home

The size of the animal isn’t always the determining factor. Woodchucks can be found as densely populated as ten per acre, with a range of only a quarter of a mile, but opossums, which are similar in size, are only found two per mile, with a range of 12 acres. Needs within one species also vary. Adult turkeys need mature trees to roost in and to provide food such as acorns, but their young require clearings with short grass where they can find insects to eat. Some species, such as bluebirds, will defend a territorial area, while others like purple martins enjoy living in close communities. While we can adapt fairly easily to cramped quarters, the wildlife need for space refers to more than actual distance between individuals. It means the total environment within that area. Squeezing species into evershrinking space can mean the death of individuals and, in the worst case, extinction.


Structural Components

Plant Components

Sixteen Components of Wildlife Habitat – Landscaping for Wildlife

If photography is your aim, be sure that there is some shelter to hide behind while watching animals drink and bathe. While improving habitat certainly benefits wildlife, it should also bring you pleasure and, if welldesigned and built around native plants, be relatively selfsustaining.

family contributing something – water, feeders, shrubs with winter berries – to the combined landscape.

When designing your landscape to increase available space for different species, also think about your own plans for interacting with wildlife.

It is very important to landscape our own properties to be more supportive of wildlife, but it is equally important to encourage others to do the same. By linking a number of yards, farms, and small tracts of trees through the efforts of individual owners, we are giving creatures a much greater chance to thrive by creating “wildlife corridors."

By improving one’s own property, others notice the increased beauty and pleasure, and they are inspired to follow that example. In this way, small changes can add up to major benefits to wildlife and the overall environment.

If you are trying to attract a lot of birds, place feeders and natural food sources in clear view from your window.

Neighbors as a Team In some parts of the country, whole neighborhoods are starting to work together, each

Variety Attracts Variety By increasing the variety of foods, types of vegetation, and heights of habitat, as well as offering plentiful nourishment and water, you will be able to attract the widest variety of wildlife to your property.

© WindStar Wildlife Institute

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In other situations, communities are working to enhance common areas, such as public parks or retirement home properties.

Start today to think about ways to provide the four essentials for wildlife, and soon you will be an integral part of the growing movement to restore habitat and increase the survival of our country’s wildlife species.

A Plant's Home

Abundance & Home Range Requirements* Species




.5/acre, 5-8 per colony

450 ft. from water

Big Brown Bat

12 to 200 per colony

30 mi. from birthplace

Black Bear

1 to 1.3 per mile

Females 1 to 10 miles Males 30 to 40 miles


1 per 2 to 4 miles

.4 to 16 miles


1 per 2 miles

Females 10 to 30 miles Males 40 miles

Eastern Chipmunk 2 to 4 per acre

.5 to 1 acre

Eastern Mole

1 per 3 to 5 acres

.3 acre

Gray Fox

.01 per acre

1 to 5 miles

Gray Squirrel


2 to 7 acres

Long-tailed Weasel

1 per 16 to 18 miles

30 to 40 acres



2 to 3 miles

Meadow Vole

35 per acre

.1 to .23 acres


10 per acre (fall)

200 yards from den


2 per mile

12 acres


1 per 4 to 47 acres

.6 to 1.8 miles

Red Squirrel

.8 to 3.8 per acre

3 to 6 acres

Red Fox

.01 acres

1 to 2 miles

Short-tailed Shrew

Max: 48 per acre

.5 to 1.25 acres

Striped Skunk

31 per mile

.25 to .5 miles

This article was written by Maryland Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist Cathy Gilleland. For more information or for the name of a Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist in your area, please contact: WindStar Wildlife Institute

Southern Flying Squirrel

Max: 5 per acre

.5 acre

White-footed Mouse

Max: 15 per acre

.1 to .5 acre

White-tailed Deer

Max: 100 per mile

150 to 500 acres


1.3 to 10 per acre

.25 to .5 mile


* Compiled by J.S. Barclay and C. Grambartolomer Green

Š WindStar Wildlife Institute

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WindStar Wildlife Institute is a national, non-profit, conservation organization whose mission is to help individuals and families establish or improve the wildlife habitat on their properties.

A Plant's Home

Cover & Space of a Nature Habitat  

Talk to anyone involved in the improvement of wildlife habitat and you will hear four words – food, water, cover, and space. These are the f...

Cover & Space of a Nature Habitat  

Talk to anyone involved in the improvement of wildlife habitat and you will hear four words – food, water, cover, and space. These are the f...