Essentials of a Healthy Habitat
- All living creatures require food, water, cover, and places to raise their young.
- A diversity of plants native to our local area supports most wildlife and enhances biodiversity.
- Layers of native vegetation, including canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, native grasses, and ferns provide for the needs of the many creatures living in the ecosystem.
- Plant shrubs and perennials close together for maximum benefit.
Provide sources of food year-round.
- Native plants:Provide nutritious seeds, nuts, berries, nectar, pollen, and foliage for birds, mammals, and insects during all seasons of the year.
- Host plants for insects: Adult butterflies, moths, and other insects lay their eggs on species-specific host plants where their larvae can feed.
- Native insects: These, especially leaf-eating insects, are an important food for many birds, their nestlings and other creatures.
- Eliminate pesticides: They kill all insects, not just pests. Butterflies, moths, bees and other beneficial insects together with their larvae are destroyed. A diversity of native plants attracts insect-eating birds as well as predatory and parasitic insects. Insect populations will be kept in balance.
- Leaf litter: Many insects and other invertebrates live in fallen leaves and provide food for birds and other small animals. Use as mulch in flowerbeds and around trees and shrubs.
- Feeders: These bring the minority of bird species that eat seeds, nuts, suet, and nectar closer to us so we can observe and enjoy them. Feeders can help some birds survive in extreme weather, but for the most part will merely supplement a good habitat.
Provide fresh water, an essential substance for all living creatures, during the four seasons.
- Birdbath: Birds and other wildlife will drink and bathe in a birdbath. Locate it in a spot near cover and clean regularly.
- Pond: Birds, dragonflies, toads, frogs, chipmunks and other creatures will use even a small in-ground pond for drinking and bathing. Shallow, slanted sides allow animals to enter and exit the water safely.
- De-icer: A heater will keep water in a birdbath or pond open during freezing weather. An opening in a pond’s surface ice allows for oxygen exchange, and helps hibernating frogs and other creatures survive the winter.
- Waterfall or dripper: Birds are attracted to the sound of moving water. Keeping water moving in winter also helps with oxygen exchange and may prevent freezing of the entire surface.
- Mister: Many birds, especially hummingbirds, enjoy water spray.
Offer plenty of cover so creatures can hide from predators and are protected from wind, rain, snow, and ice.
- Plant densely with a wide variety of deciduous and evergreen native trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses, and ferns.
- Create layers with canopy trees, under story trees, shrubs, and shade-loving plants. Many animal species will find shelter.
- In sunny open areas plant perennials and native grasses closely together or install a small meadow.
- Minimize space devoted to turf grass.
- Provide protective cover around bird feeders and water sources.
- Leave some dead plant materials. A dead or dying tree (snag) can be a roosting place for birds and small mammals. A brush pile, woodpile, and leaf litter offer protection, too.
- Provide man-made houses to shelter birds, bats, and toads.
Places to raise young
Birds, butterflies, other insects and creatures can mate and care for their offspring on your property.
- Native trees, shrubs, and vines: Dense evergreen and deciduous vegetation offers nest sites.
- Dead trees and limbs: Cavities will be used by nesting owls, woodpeckers, opossums, and other birds and animals.
- Pond: Frogs, toads, dragonflies, and other water-dependent creatures will lay their eggs in an in-ground pond.
- Host plants: The caterpillars of most butterflies and moths can only eat the leaves of one or a few of our native host plants. For example, Monarch butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family.
- Nest boxes: Many cavity-nesting birds will use birdhouses. Tailor the size of the entrance, interior dimensions, and habitat location to meet the needs of each species you hope to attract.
Other Ingredients of a Healthy Habitat
- Remove invasive plants. These crowd out native plants and decrease biodiversity.
- Provide safety for wildlife. Clean feeders and birdbaths regularly. Because outdoor cats kill birds and other wildlife, keep them indoors
- Use organic methods. Eliminate use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Leaf mulch and compost will enhance the soil.
- Minimize water use. Use drip irrigation and/or a rain barrel. Consider installing a rain garden.
- Reduce lawn areas. Practice chemical-free lawn care on remaining turf grass.