Are you looking to create a wildlife sanctuary? Or, maybe just wondering why friends or neighbors are making their yards more like natural habitat? Read on to find out what’s in it for wildlife, and what’s in it for you, if you decide to try it—and more important, how to make a wild animal sanctuary happen in your own yard.
Why create a wildlife sanctuary?
Wildlife is losing several thousand acres of habitat every day, causing countless individual animals to suffer and taking a toll on the more sensitive species. With an ever-increasing amount of land devoted to housing developments, it is easy to see that wildlife has a much greater chance of flourishing if some of those yards—large or small—were to offer a bit of habitat. And, this can be done in ways that are compatible with homeowners’ uses of their yards. A backyard wildlife sanctuary creates safe nesting places, migratory rest stops, and much more for songbirds and other wildlife, all while making a yard more beautiful and interesting.
What does it take?
Offering wildlife habitat is something you can do in small, easy, incremental steps. Take your time and enjoy the journey. What wildlife is looking for is fairly simple… natural foods, clean water, safe cover, and shelter so they can rest, stay out of harsh weather, and raise their young. Here’s how to add these elements of a wildlife sanctuary to your property:
- Plant native; whether you’re adding a tree, some bushes, grasses, or wildflowers. Native plantings offer what native wildlife seeks to eat, whether fruit, nuts, berries, sap, needles, seeds, twigs, cones, buds, blossoms, leaves, or grasses themselves. These plantings form the base of your local food chain.
- If there is not a natural water source on your property or very close by, add a birdbath and equip it with heater to keep the water open in winter.
- For cover and shelter, plant evergreens, if your planting region sustains them. They give cover and foods year round, while also offering ideal nesting spots.
- For quick cover at no cost, create a brush pile, using fallen branches or those that need trimming. Birds and small animals will find it irresistible.
- In springtime, put out free nesting materials for the birds—yarn, string, little strips of cloth—but most important, don’t “strip” your yard of the building materials that occur naturally. Birds are counting on having twigs, leaves, and grasses available, so too tidy a yard will look uninviting to them.
Other ways to help wildlife…
Here are some things you want to avoid doing, either because they are harmful or they invite wildlife that can be problematic in a backyard:
- Don’t purposefully feed larger wildlife, like raccoons, deer, or bears. These animals may begin coming in numbers—an unsafe situation for all.
- Don’t leave food out for your pets. Instead, feed them only as much as they can eat while you’re present. Otherwise, wildlife comes in to eat the rest, possibly passing along disease or getting into fights with your pets.
- Don’t use pesticides and herbicides on your lawn and gardens. Instead, try working mainly with native plantings and alternatives to these poisons.
- Don’t let your cats roam freely. Instead, provide them indoor fun or outdoor fun, either with supervision or within a screened-in area.
- Don’t keep cutting more of your grass than you use or need. Instead, replant some of it as a wildflower meadow. Or, if you have a few large trees surrounded by nothing but grass, begin planting native shade-tolerant smaller trees, bushes, and plants around them. In time, you’ll have lush areas of habitat that offer cover and nesting sites for birds and other creatures.
Places to look for helpful planting info…
Your university cooperative extension office
Your state’s department of natural resources
Local nature centers
Local native plant society
Native Plant Information Network…
Bringing Wildlife Home by Douglas Tallam