Building a backyard wildlife habitat is a fun project for all the family. Whether you have 10 acres, a small patch of lawn, or even just a windowsill, you can make it a wildlife-friendly space.
Why it’s important…
We are destroying natural habitats every day. We often hear about massive deforestation or the breaking-up of the arctic ice on which polar bears hunt. But we don’t often think about the spaces closest to home. Wherever you live, your home was once a natural habitat such as grassland or virgin forest. Over the centuries, human activity has destroyed many natural habitats and forced many species into extinction. About 30% of the planet’s ice-free surface is used for animal agriculture. With a few simple steps, you can create a rich and diverse backyard wildlife habitat.
Lawns are not the answer!
Sometimes it’s easy to look at the numerous rectangular green spaces that make up the majority of gardens in North America and feel complacent. The lawn is made up of plants so surely they’re a good thing? Quite the opposite is true. Lawns are a monoculture, which means that one type of plant out-competes all others. The plant in question has become extremely desirable – a perfect lawn is so sought-after that Americans spend $30 billion a year on lawn care.
Unfortunately, much of that money is spent on fighting precisely the things that wildlife needs – insects and biodiversity. Monocultures prevent flowering plants from growing, which in turn attract pollinators such as bees. A few weeks ago we wrote a blog on why bees and other insects are so important.
Let Your Lawn Grow Wild!
Instead of cutting the grass short, allow it to grow long. As it grows it will provide shelter for small animals and insects and attract the larger animals and birds that want to eat them! As the grass grows it will eventually seed, providing a source of food.
You will also notice spaces appearing in the grasses where there were none before and these will soon fill up with other plants. Many of these will flower, encouraging bees and other pollinators to return.
It’s amazing what a difference you can make to an ecosystem just by leaving the mower in the shed! If you can’t let your whole garden go wild, or you don’t think your landlord will take kindly to it just allow a few smaller patches to grow. Roughly a square yard will provide enough space and shelter to encourage wildlife to take up residency.
Other Ways to Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat
- Provide water. Birds, insects and small mammals all need access to water regularly. A small bird pool is good, and a pond is great. You can use a plastic washing up bowl but stick a few rocks in to make sure that the critters have a way to climb out again.
- All animals and insects need a safe place to sleep. Bird boxes, bat boxes, and bee hotels are all readily available to buy and can provide a place for them to sleep or nest. Don’t tidy your garden too much either. Piles of leaves and untidy undergrowth can provide places for small animals to shelter. An untidy garden makes a better backyard wildlife habitat than a tidy one.
- Don’t get a cat! Introducing a non-native predator into an ecosystem can be destructive. Cats will go after small animals and birds and make it difficult for native species to survive and thrive.
- Provide food. But make sure it is the right kind of food. Don’t use foods that attract pests and aim instead to help animals and birds whose natural food sources in your area are limited.
- Plant for wildlife. When you’re planting your flowerbeds, try to pick native plants and ones which will provide food, shelter or habitat for wildlife. You can learn about native plant species here. Small trees with fruit or berries are great for birds, pollen-rich flowers are perfect for bees. And, if you have a vegetable patch, you shouldn’t get too annoyed that something is eating part of your crop!
- Think local. Ecosystems are highly localized so find out what animals and birds are native to your local area and see what you can do to help. Your local humane society might be able to provide some useful pointers.