Do you enjoy observing nature... hearing the song of the chickadee... watching hummingbirds fill up on nectar from trumpet vines... listening to the chattering of squirrels... seeing the beauty and grace of a monarch butterfly perched on a milkweed.... experiencing the antics of a Mockingbird... the cooing of the Mourning doves... the swiftness of the Cottontail.. and the brilliance of a Cardinal or Baltimore oriole.
Why Landscape For Wildlife For more nature habitat information Visit these helpful websites: A Plant's Home A Bird's Home A Homesteader's Home
f you enjoy some of the activities mentioned above, you’ll probably want to landscape your property for wildlife so you can experience even more from Mother Nature by attracting more wildlife to your property. The term "wildlife" means different things to different people. To a livestock producer, it may mean coyotes. To someone who feeds birds, it may mean Cardinals, Nuthatches, and Hummingbirds. To a birder, it may mean rare species. To a gardener, it may mean butterflies or crows. To a wildlife biologist the term wildlife means all living organisms out of the direct control of man, including undomesticated or cultivated plants and animals. Dr. Thomas Barnes, Extension Wildlife Specialist, University of Kentucky, suggests that the definition also include the habitat of the species. He says that it is impossible to understand the ecology of a species without having a thorough knowledge of an animal’s diet and how this differs during a year, plus how the species relates to its habitat (predators, vegetation, soil, competitors, etc.). Wildlife doesn’t just randomly appear in a given area. It is there because of favorable habitat. To attract more wildlife, you need to apply specific wildlife management practices. To reach your wildlife management goals, you must manipulate the habitat, the animal population, or manage the people (landowners).
© WindStar Wildlife Institute
A Plant's Home
To many, the term “wildlife conservation" is often confused with “wildlife preservation."
Decrease a population, (harvesting deer that are damaging fruit trees); or
Conservation is an effort to maintain and use natural resources wisely in an attempt to ensure that those resources will be available for future generations.
Stabilize a population (making sure wildlife leaving is replaced by wildlife coming in).
Preservation is a component or part of conservation in which natural systems are left alone without human disturbance or manipulation. But, an undisturbed ecosystem is not always stable. Natural changes of plants are constantly creating different habitats for different wildlife species. Thus, as conditions in the habitat change, some species will have to move on and others will move in. Here’s an example: Wildlife managers usually want to: s
Increase a population (adding food and cover plants);
Essential Elements of a Wildlife Habitat There are four essential elements needed for survival in a wildlife habitat – food, water, cover, and space for wildlife to raise a family. If you keep these needs in mind while creating your wildlife habitat plan, your chances for success are excellent Food requirements vary for every species. It changes as they age and from one season to another. For some, the berries in your garden are ideal. For others, it’s the nectar in flowers, or nuts and acorns, grasses, grain, or seeds. Water is as important as food and is critical to survival.
Wildlife Habitat Triangle
Space Arrangement Water
Each must be of good quality, in ample supply, and properly situated in relation to each other.
© WindStar Wildlife Institute
Cover is important for weather protection as well as hiding from predators. It’s also important for nesting and resting. It can be shrubs, native grasses, trees, rock and brush piles, hollow trees, caves, nesting boxes, and abandoned buildings. Space is needed for wildlife to raise a family. They establish territories and they will defend it. For example, Bluebird nesting boxes must be 300 ft. apart or the Bluebirds will fight each other. Wood ducks and Purple martins do not defend territories. Loons want 100 acres of lake or wetlands and Ruffed grouse need 10 acres. Basic Concepts of a Habitat Before fully evaluating a wildlife habitat, some basic concepts about habitat and their relationship to different wildlife species needs to be understood. Within a forest ecosystem, how the plants grow in different layers is an important type of arrangement called vertical layering.
Adding a pond or bird bath will produce results in a hurry. Perhaps letting your pond overflow will produce wetlands.
This is important because some wildlife species may use the ground layer (herbaceous) for food, but also need the tallest layer (tree canopy) for shelter. The middle layer is composed of shrubs. A Plant's Home
While it is not necessary to give up entirely on having a lawn, limiting its size will not only benefit wildlife, it will also save you time and money. Mowing, chemical treatments, weeding, and watering are all costly – both in terms of what you pay for them and the number of hours that you spend doing them. If you choose wildlife-friendly ground covers, you won’t have to poison the environment with chemicals or spend your weekends mowing. Native plants require less (or no) pruning, less water, and are more resistant to disease, thus lessening the need for pesticides. There is even an entire style of gardening known as “xeriscaping" which emphasizes the use of drought-hardy plants suitable for areas with limited rainfall. The place where two or more different plant communities or successional stages meet (such as where a forest meets an open area) is called edge. Sometimes there is an abrupt change between plant communities. Other times there is no sharp or distinct difference, but only a gradual change from one plant community to another. The latter attracts the most wildlife. The function served by plants and structures is more important than their appearance. Don’t base your planting decisions solely on what a plant looks like. © WindStar Wildlife Institute
Jonathan Kays, Maryland Regional Extension Specialist for Natural Resources, says if there is one single rule to follow in attracting wildlife, it is make your landscape as diverse as possible with many plant species. Then, your habitat is less vulnerable to insect damage or diseases that can wipe out single species. In ecosystems, diversity means stability and ability to withstand change. If you follow nature’s lead, you will find that wildlife thrives when you landscape using a wide variety of plants. Some will be evergreen or form thickets for cover, while others will be valuable because of the flowers and fruits that they bear. Planting in “layers" is another important concept, recognizing the importance of having a descending order of tall trees, medium shrubs, and shorter flowers and bushes. This will allow for the different feeding and nesting habits of many species. Become aware of the needs of the wildlife species in your area. Fancy double-petaled ruffled blossoms are lovely in the garden, but butterflies can’t access the nectar in them, so you should also provide the flatter, more open blooms that they prefer. Kousa dogwoods are current favorites of landscapers and they are beautiful trees, but their berries are too large for most birds to swallow, so include some native dogwoods as well. Page 3
Always be careful not to plant invasive exotic species, such as Multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle, which can overwhelm native plants and be nearly impossible to irradicate. A term that you will often hear in reference to wildlife habitat is “niche." This refers to the concept that each individual species in a community has its own role within that community. For instance, it is the “occupation" of woodpeckers to eat insects under tree bark and to excavate holes in tree trunks, while beavers can be expected to cut down trees and create dams. Those are examples of species which are fairly specialized. Other creatures could be called “generalists" and they will tend to be more in competition with one another. For example, raccoons, foxes, and other medium-size omnivores all seek the same fruits and small mammals for food, but the variety of their food sources lets them compete successfully. In terms of conservation, this concept is important because major habitat changes can be very destructive to specialized species, while having less impact on those which depend on a wider choice of elements. If there is a single patch of wildflowers upon which hummingbirds are dependent for nectar and it is eliminated, the hummingbirds will have to relocate. Other birds may also be eating insects attracted by those same flowers, but they can find A Plant's Home
other insects if the flowers disappear.
elements with a corridor of good cover is important.
can penetrate even tough, compacted, clay soil.
Wildlife population can be defined as the number of individuals of a given species living within a defined area during a specified time. Population density refers to the number of these individuals living within a unit of land area.
Following are even more compelling reasons to landscape for wildlife:
By loosening the soil particles, water soaks into the soil rather than running off. Native legumes will add nitrogen to the soil, reducing the need for artificial fertilizers.
Some creatures, such as black bear, require a very low density in order to meet their food needs, while others, like squirrels, can exist with many individuals per acre. The “carrying capacity" of an area refers to the maximum number of a given species that the area can sustain over an extended period of time. This carrying capacity can vary due to changes in climate, food production, and so on.
Without human interference, wildlife populations regulate themselves as the carrying capacity fluctuates. Wildlife needs extend through all four seasons of the year so be sure and plant a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers that address their needs. For example, Crabapple trees provide fruits in the winter and spring. Cherry trees produce fruit in summer. And, Hickory trees produce nuts in the fall. Food, water, and cover need to be arranged close together to produce optimum results. This cuts down on mortality from predators when wildlife move from one habitat element to another. Connecting © WindStar Wildlife Institute
Economic You can increase your property value. Studies show that if you have a pleasing landscape, you can receive up to 20 percent more for your property when you sell. This is also true if the property backs up to a park or other “green space." And, if you have less yard, you’ll save money on mowing, fertilizing, and watering.
Soil Conservation You don’t have to be a farmer to realize the importance of conserving the soil. Everything you grow in your habitat depends on the soil. The more fertile it is, the better your landscape plants will grow. If you landscape with native prairie or meadow plants, you will improve the soil because their root systems Page 4
Natural Beauty Plants highly regarded for their beauty can also be excellent for wildlife. For example, conifers maintain their color year-round and provide good winter cover and nesting places in the summer. A wildflower meadow with native grasses is not only beautiful to the eye, it is a source of nectar, seeds, insects, and cover for a multitude of wildlife.
Energy Conservation If your deciduous trees shade in summer or conifors block the winter winds from your house, it will take less energy and less cost to cool and heat it. Plus, you will be providing wildlife with food, cover, and space to raise young. In the fall, after the trees drop their leaves, the sun will shine through, providing passive solar heat.
The same is true of fruit producing trees and shrubs such as Hickory, Crabapple, Cherry, and Walnut trees; and shrubs such as Highbush blueberry, Cranberry, and American elderberry. s
Natural Insect Control Bats feed upon small flying insects, such as mosquitoes, moths, and beetles. A bat can consume one-half its weight in insects every night. Also, birds such as Purple martins and Tree swallows, consume large numbers of insects that can be harmful to trees, plants, and people. Even earthworms and rodents help by turning over the soil and recycling nutrients. A Plant's Home
Ecosystem Each species performs a specific role in the ecosystem that directly benefits other living things, including people. A good example is that squirrels help forests continue to grow. The squirrels bury acorns for food but fail to dig all of them up, so the acorn sprouts and produces a new oak tree. Other birds and animals scatter seeds throughout the landscape. Blue jays are especially important in long distance dispersal of acorns and beechnuts. They carry them to distant locations and bury the nuts in soft earth or under leaves. A Virginia study shows that 50 blue jays transported 150,000 acorns in one month. Some of the acorns were retrieved by the jays and eaten later in the year. But, many were left to regenerate the forest!
Lawn Maintenance One unfortunate carry-over from our European ancestors is our love-affair with lawns. England, in particular, has marvelous expanses of green grass which we in this country have tried, with varying degrees of success, to copy. Unfortunately, we neglected to take into account the fact that those English
© WindStar Wildlife Institute
The young and growing minds of children will thrive in your wildlife habitat. They will experience the natural world and learn from it. Do your landscaping for wildlife as a family project. Let the children help plant and take care of trees, shrubs, and flowers. Show them the eggs and nests of birds and baby rabbits and let them fill bird feeders. Think of your landscaping as nature’s classroom and your kids and their friends as students .
lawns were frequently maintained by crews of hired gardeners, and that their lush green color was due in large part to the damp, temperate climate.
When planting a garden, plant enough to share with others, rather than depending on pesticides and other deterrents which make the gardening experience less pleasant and less healthful for you, too.
Lawns in this country are not only non-beneficial for wildlife, they can even be harmful. We use huge quantities of water to keep grass green – even in areas where the water supply is limited – and we spray it with all sorts of chemicals which are toxic to wildlife.
For instance, bronze fennel looks lovely in the herb garden, and also provides a host plant for swallowtail caterpillars.
These poisons gradually enter the water table and wash into the watershed, so that all wildlife, including humans, is eventually affected.
If you plant fruiting shrubs and provide a water source, you will attract birds and toads which will thank you by eating many of the non-beneficial bugs in your garden.
In addition, lawns displace plants which could otherwise provide food and cover for a variety of wildlife. s
Songbirds don’t even like to fly over large expanses of short grass because they are so vulnerable to predators, and instead will make shorter flights from trees to shrubs or other plants around the perimeter of a large lawn.
Food Production Humans and wildlife would both agree that fresh, local food is preferred.
Pollution Control and Climate Moderation When planning your landscape, think about all the ways (including shade and windbreak mentioned earlier) in which your choices can help you moderate your own microclimate.
A Plant's Home
Hedgerows can change wind patterns and make it possible to plant in otherwise unsuitable areas, or you might use a row of evergreens to block the noise from a nearby road. Plants of all kinds will purify the air by removing carbon dioxide and other pollutants and releasing oxygen. Certain plants (legumes) can also enrich and aerate the soil, helping other things to grow without the need for fertilizer or soil enhancers. s
Biodiversity Thoughtful landscaping can help to maintain the biodiversity of a given area. This applies to genetics, to species, to communities, and to ecosystems. By offering many kinds of plants, you are ensuring that a wide range of wildlife can thrive. If the plants you choose are native species, you are also protecting genetic diversity by making sure that these plants continue to reproduce despite the encroachment of many alien species.
Photography and Wildlife Watching Anyone who enjoys photography will be delighted with the variety of wildlife that will be attracted when you landscape naturally. With careful planning, you can bring many species within easy reach of your lens. Bird nesting boxes, fruiting plants, nectar flowers, and water sources can all be placed where they are easily seen from a favorite window.
© WindStar Wildlife Institute
A wildflower meadow will attract many kinds of birds and butterflies, while even a small pond or wetland area will bring in many creatures, from frogs to raccoons. Variety in your landscaping will mean variety in your photos, sketches, or what you see through your binoculars.
feature to make it look like an intentional part of your garden rather than just an oversight.
Involving children in your plans will make them more aware of nature and will educate them about the needs and preferences of different species. If there is someone in your family with a disability, landscape plans can ensure that nature is close enough to see without being able to walk, or to hear, smell and touch without needing sight.
Eventually you might be able to get enough people interested to create a “wildlife corridor" where each yard provides cover and perhaps other elements necessary for wildife.
Communication With Neighbors Is Key To Success You need to have realistic expectations when landscaping for wildlife. This type of landscaping is not entirely without problems. The first that you may encounter is resistance from your neighbors. It is often helpful if you let them know in advance what you are planning to do, and why you feel that it is important. Be informed about the plants you want to grow and the wildlife you hope to attract. Sometimes you will have to politely educate them. For instance, it is a common belief that tall grasses bring in rats, while in reality rodents are attracted by food that is left open and unattended, perhaps for household pets. If you want to leave a portion of your yard unmowed, add a bench, bird bath, fence, or other
As your neighbors show some interest in the many species of wildlife that your yard is attracting, give them tips on how to get the same results on their own property.
You may have a hedgerow that provides cover and great flowers for nectar, another yard may include a pond, and still another neighbor may be interested in growing fruiting shrubs for food. In summary, there are many reasons why you should landscape for wildlife. Only you can decide which reasons fit your situation.
This article was written by Thomas D. Patrick, President, WindStar Wildlife Institute, and 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
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.windstar.org 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