Attract Wildlife to Your Backyard

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Attract Wildlife to Your Backyard

By Robert and Sheryl Yantis

The drought we are living with also affects wildlife. Hill Country wildlife needs our help to survive and flourish during this dry period. An effective wildlife habitat will provide all four basic needs for wildlife; food, shelter, water, and breeding or nesting space. These needs should be provided in a way that they can readily use and easily access. If you provide the basics, in a diverse and well planned manner, it will make your garden more attractive to wildlife. Each species has its own requirements in terms of the four ingredients.

In order to attract as many different kinds of animals as possible, be sure to plant a variety of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants around open spaces. This will maximize the benefits of your backyard habitat throughout the year. Planting around open spaces, also known as the "edge effect“, is very

effective. Edges attract many different kinds of wildlife to the smallest piece of land and that is why this technique is so rewarding for homeowners.

Another effective landscape technique that allows animals to live in close proximity is the “high rise effect” which encourages animals with various habitats to live together. Locate an open area known as the first story, then plant clumps of different sized shrubs known as the second story, add small to medium sized trees considered the third story and lastly, include tall trees referred to as the fourth story. Animals that are adapted to various habitats can live in close proximity with this technique.

Channel wildlife to areas where they will not cause conflict in or near your house. Avoid planting shrubs close to your house as wild animals stick close to sheltered areas. Instead, create corridors of shelter around the perimeter of the yard.

Native plants naturally occur in the region in which they evolved. They are adapted to local soil, rainfall and temperature conditions, and have developed natural defenses to many insects and diseases. Because of these traits, native plants will grow with minimal use of water, fertilizers and pesticides. Wildlife species evolve with plants; therefore, they use native adapted plant communities as their habitat. Using native and adapted plants helps preserve the balance and beauty of natural ecosystems.

Growing a garden for bees sounds strange. As most gardeners know, bees are an important part of our ecosystem. Without bees, life as we know it would cease. It’s true we depend on pollinators to spread pollen from one plant to another, so plants can produce fertile seed and reproduce. We can make a big difference by planting flowers that will feed our bees. Remember without plants we would perish from the earth.

Other Insects also play a role in the food web. Insects are the primary food source for all wildlife, including frogs, toads, lizards, birds, and even other insects, such as dragonflies. Some insects such as butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies are beautiful and fun to watch. Sun is very important to both flowers and butterflies. Warm habitats benefit both eggs and caterpillars. It enables them to develop up to 50 percent faster. A sunny garden protected from the wind will not only attract more butterflies but may produce more butterflies. Choose plants that bloom at different times. Blend nectar for butterflies and host plants for caterpillars and your yard will be full of butterflies.

Birds enjoy feasting on insects in your yard, especially if they are nesting in your yard and feeding their young. Your backyard sanctuary must offer shelter, a reliable water source and natural food to attract birds. Stick to the native species which birds prefer. Native trees, shrubs, and plants long adapted to our region will thrive in local conditions. Native plants vary with the area you live in. Complete a list of the types of areas on your own property in order to select appropriate plants for each site

It is also important to minimize the use of pesticides and herbicides, as these chemicals will harm the wildlife you are trying to attract. Pesticides are estimated to kill far more than 50 million birds per year. Wildlife passing through a chemically treated yard not only absorbs chemicals directly, but they ingest the chemicals by eating poisoned plants and insects, and then may retreat to a secluded area to die. Granular pesticides are particularly dangerous to birds, which mistakenly ingest the granules thinking they are food or small rocks that aid digestion.

The three greatest threats to native species around the world are habitat loss, invasive non-native species, and climate change. Even though we often feel helpless to make a difference in the world, we can all make a huge difference simply by what we do in our yards.