About 40,000,000 acres of habitat are lost a year across the globe.
40,000,000 a YEAR.
That’s larger than Florida.
To make this worse, what is left are a bunch of pockets of habitat away from other areas. This is called habitat fragmentation. And to further depress you, this fragmented habitat tends to be the dumping round for all our waste.
Our wildlife needs a break.
But you can help them by adding 3 things to your backyard:
Its nice to plant pretty flowers for the butterflies, but don’t be surprised if none appear. Why? You need to provide food for all of an animal’s life stages.
The key to creating a wildlife refuge is planting as many high wildlife value plants as possible. These plants feed many insects and small animals at the bottom of the food chain.
The key to creating a wildlife refuge is planting as many high wildlife value plants as possible. Click To Tweet
So, how do you know you have a high wildlife value plant?
A plant should be a host plant
Host plants feed baby wildlife. The term is mostly used with insects, but all young animals have to eat. Without host plants wildlife cannot reproduce. Think of a host plant as a nursery.
One of my favorite host plants is the Wild Black Cherry tree (Prunus serotina). It has a very high wildlife value making it an important tree. It alone is the host plant for 10 different butterflies and moths!
So this one tree is bringing butterflies and moths to your backyard habitat.
A plant should be a food source
It gets better.
The Black Cherry, not only hosts many insects, it also brings songbirds. The Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) eats a lot of caterpillars, 80% of their meals in the summer are bugs. They look to trees, like the Black Cerry, to feed the caterpillars.
A Black cherry isn’t just about caterpillars. It also flowers. Cherry blossoms are an important food source for bees. Early spring can be a difficult time for pollinators, but the Black Cherry’s bloom time brings nectar just when it is needed.
Now we have butterflies, moths, birds and bees.
The flowers don’t bloom for long, and soon our Black Cherry tree is covered in bunches of tiny cherries. These are a favorite food of squirrels, chipmunks, and mice.
Butterflies, moths, birds, bees and small critters.
A plant should support the food chain.
The food chain is all about balance. The animals at the top need enough lower animals or they can’t live.
Back to our Cherry tree. It brought in bugs to feed the birds and fruit to feed the small critters. All these smaller animals are happy and having babies.
Then a hawk shows up.
Since we planted our foundation food tree, now predators are visiting our backyard habitat. The birds of prey swoop in and snatch up a chickadee. A fox stalks the squirrel and has a meal.
Butterflies, moths, birds, small critters, predators.
All from one tree.
Look at what you have in your backyard. Make a list, look it up on the internet. What do the plants in your yard support? What are you missing? If you need some ideas, head over here and find the perfect high wildlife value plant for your yard.
We can only go 3 weeks without food, but only 4 days without water. It’s that important.
Wildlife is no different.
The next wildlife essential is water. Backyard wildlife must have a source of clean safe water.Backyard wildlife must have a source of clean safe water. Click To Tweet
Chemicals can be in the water wildlife drinks without you even realizing it. The chemicals can come from runoff from a treated lawn (weed killer and insect killer), a car leaking antifreeze (lethal to most animals) or sunscreen that washes off a child while swimming.
All these things can pollute a water source with chemicals. To avoid this, don’t spray weed or insect killer near water sources. Also, keep your vehicles in good repair to prevent leaks and watch for leaks from your neighbor’s cars (be polite when telling them). And, watch the paint of your birdbath. Chipping paint may release chemicals into the water also harming birds.
Birds poop when they bathe. It’s gross, but it happens. Because of this, it’s important to clean your bath regularly. If a sick bird drinks from a bird bath, it could easily spread its disease to every bird after it. If you are one of the few water sources in a neighborhood, and the water is contaminated, it could be bad for your backyard birds.
Prevent this by cleaning regularly. Use a weak bleach solution (follow directions on the bottle) to give it a good scrub. Rinse the bath and then let it dry before you refill. I do this once a week in the cool months and every other day in the summer.
Safe water is located in a source that prevents drowning or attack from predators.
Wildlife will not drink from a source of water that does not have a clear area of sight. When an animal drinks it cannot look for danger, so many creatures are very careful around water.
When placing a water source, look around. Notice where the neighborhood cat may hide. Don’t place it near bushes, place water at least 4 feet from shrubs or thick plants. If using a bird bath, get a higher pedestal to keep the birds higher than the cat’s level.
Birds really love to bathe. They are very cute and energetic when they find a puddle they can flap in. But sometimes they get a bit too excited and too wet, and they drown. Songbirds are not good swimmers and shallow baths are needed to prevent drowning.Songbirds are not good swimmers and shallow baths are needed to prevent drowning. Click To Tweet
Drowning doesn’t just occur with birds. Small mammals and even insects often drown while trying to get a drink.
How can you give out water to prevent drowning?
- Shallow dish with stones to prevent drowning (1-2 inches deep)
- Pondless water feature where birds drink from running water
- Adding stones or marbles to make a bath shallower (clean this often)
- Large pond with gently sloping sides
- Misting the air on hot days
Winter weather and frozen water create their own set of problems. Read about what you need to do for birds in the winter in my upcoming article.
Shelter for wildlife is more than just a birdhouse or a single tree. Shelter is year long safety from predators and weather.
A yard can be beautifully planted with multiple food sources and not have a single songbird if they don’t feel safe.
Winter animals need shelter from the wind, baby animals need shelter from predators and adult animals need a place to sleep safely.
Providing shelter is easy
- Make a brush pile of old yard clippings
- Plant a row of evergreens
- Plant dense shrubs like roses or viburnum
- Hang a roosting box in winter
- Provide a native bee box
- Make a bug hotel
- Make a toad house
- Don’t rake up autumn leaves
- Leave tall grass at the edge of the lawn
Winter shelter can be the difference between life and death to wildlife. Read my upcoming article about the best plants for winter shelter to learn more.
Add these three things to your backyard and the wildlife will come. But don’t stop there – get your neighbors involved and decrease habitat fragmentation.
What ideas do you have for adding these 3 essentials to your backyard? Share in the comments!