Support Your Local Wildlife with an Inviting Backyard Habitat

By Jim Navary

A wildlife habitat is a combination of food, water, shelter, and space arranged to meet the needs of wildlife. Even a small yard can be landscaped to attract birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small animals. Trees, shrubs, and other plants provide shelter and food for a variety of wildlife.

The variety of wildlife species that will be attracted to your backyard depends upon the plants you use for food and cover. Nesting boxes, feeders, and watering sites, such as ponds and fountains, can be added to improve the habitat.

Planning is necessary for attractive and productive wildlife habitat. You have both a horizontal area to work with -- the size of your lot -- as well as a vertical area that stretches from your soil to the treetops. The vertical area is composed of the canopy formed by the tallest tree branches; understory vegetation consisting of smaller trees, shrubs, and vines; the floor which is often dominated by low-growing plants (grasses, flowers, etc.) and the basement where a wide range of organisms live in the soil. Different wildlife species live in each of these zones, so numerous habitats can be provided on a small piece of land.

Of course, trees, shrubs and flowers are the backbone of any landscaping design and are important for wildlife shelter. Many tree and shrub species are excellent sources of food for wildlife. Proper selection of plant material will meet both the aesthetic needs of the homeowner and the food and shelter needs of wildlife. Don't forget, you are also an important part of the habitat!

A word about native vs exotic plants Native plants are better for the habitat than exotic plants, generally requiring less fertilizer and other additives, less water, and less effort in pest control. They are especially important to native wildlife, such as pollinators, that may have co-evolved with a particular native species. Pollinators often rely on a certain type of flower as a source of food, while the flower depends on the pollinator to transport its pollen to other flowers for reproduction.

Non-native plants in a backyard habitat can damage the delicate balance of the local ecosystem. All too often they can even crowd out native species to the point of extinction. Local wildlife benefit more when native plants remain in place, or are restored to their natural habitats, thus providing the best source of food for local animals. - 29857

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