When you think of providing food for wildlife, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most people, it’s bird feeders. But before we talk about bird feeders, let’s discuss how you can plant a garden full of natural sources of food which will provide all the sustenance your local wildlife will need.
Many birds and other wildlife will be attracted to a wildlife garden planted with lots of seed-producing flowers and native grasses. And the good news is that this is easy to accomplish by reducing your lawn area by 10% to start and installing a wildlife meadow.
A wildlife meadow consists of native grasses and wildflowers, including native sunflowers, which will reduce the amount of bags of birdseed you have to haul home to your backyard wildlife garden.
These seeds will provide food for wildlife almost year-round when you save your fall cleanup chores until spring and allow the seedheads to stand through the winter. You will be rewarded many times over by watching the number of birds who will spend the winter in your wildlife garden, doing acrobatics to collect those seeds.
You’ll be able to observe sparrows, goldfinches, juncos, Cardinals, and other birds, plus several small mammals as they feed on this buffet you’ve created for them.
Berries and Fruits
Native shrubs and trees which provide berries and fruits are an excellent addition to your wildlife garden. With proper selection of these plants you can provide year-round value to wildlife.
Migrating birds stock up on these fruits and berries to fuel their journey. Native plants provide the proper balance of fats and lipids to ensure that these birds have enough energy to complete their long flight.
In winter, these fruits and berries provide fuel to survive the cold winter nights. You’ll be truly amazed when a flock of Cedar Waxwings descends into your wildlife garden to make a feast of the bounty you have planted for them.
The flowers of these plants will also attract native pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and more.
Many birds and other wildlife subsist on nuts. And it’s easy to attract them to your wildlife garden by planting several different nut-producing trees. Often the first nut-eating animal that comes to mind are squirrels, and it does take some patience and creativity to co-exist with squirrels in the wildlife garden.
But your efforts will be rewarded many times over when you get to observe the woodpeckers, jays, chipmunks, and more who will visit your garden for wildlife.
Great nut trees for wildlife in your garden include oak, pecan, hickory, walnut, chestnut, and hazelnut. You can find nut trees for your backyard wildlife habitat no matter how small (or large) your space.
Why would you want to attract insects to your wildlife garden?
Several reasons. First, 96% of land birds, no matter what they eat as adults, feed insects to their young because of the high protein. The fact of the matter is, if you want birds to hang out in your garden for wildlife, you’ve got to have insects.
Insects and native plants form the base of the food web on which all other wildlife depends.
How do you attract insects to your backyard habitat? It’s quite easy when you plant a wide variety of native plants with year-round wildlife value. This means lots of native grasses, perennials, shrubs, and trees.
When you also plan for at least 3 season bloom, you’ll entice native pollinators to make their homes in your wildlife haven. Native pollinators are in deep trouble due to habitat loss, so when you welcome them into your garden you’re doing them a huge service.
Frogs, toads, salamanders and other wildlife also rely on a diet of insects. These animals are also in trouble. Their numbers are declining due to habitat loss, contaminated water, and pesticide spraying. Create a welcoming home in your wildlife garden for them.
Nectar and Host Plants for Butterflies
When thinking of a butterfly garden, it is quite natural to think of nectar plants for butterflies in the wildlife garden, but this is only half of the equation. Each butterfly species needs a specific plant, or a specific family of plants, on which to lay their eggs.
In order for caterpillars to grow into beautiful adult butterflies, they must have access to their host plant. For example, Monarch butterfly caterpillars must have milkweeds (Asclepias spp), Fritillaries must have violets (Viola spp), and Pipevine Swallowtails must have Pipevine (Aristolchia spp).
If you do not have host plants for caterpillars, you butterfly visitors will be just a fleeting event. A female butterfly has one thing on her mind: find a place to lay her eggs. She will not waste time hanging around places that don’t give her this opportunity.
Get a checklist of the butterflies of your area and then add as many host plants for different kinds of caterpillars that you can squeeze into your wildlife garden. You will be amazed at the beautiful acrobatic flights of these stunning creatures from spring through fall.
Bird feeders are an excellent way to bring our avian friends close enough that we can observe them. And during the winter bird feeders provide food when natural sources may be scarce, or buried beneath the snow.
There are many different types of bird feeders that attract a wide variety of birds: thistle feeders for goldfinches, sunflower seed feeders for chickadees, juncos, finches, and sparrows, suet feeders for woodpeckers, and my personal favorite, the hummingbird feeder.
Avoid recipes that call for making bird treats with stale bread, bagels, and similar products. Bread does not provide quality food for birds and other wildlife, and may in fact make them quite ill.
But bird feeders are just a supplement to planting a wildlife garden that provides all the food your local wildlife may need. Plus, your garden for wildlife will attract all manner of other species, too, and you need to provide for their needs as well.
So start planning now how you can add more seeds, berries, nuts, and insects to your wildlife garden. You will soon have a haven that is brimming with life: birds, bees, butterflies, frogs and toads, bats, and more.
This article is part 2 in a series. You can find the others here:
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials for Wildlife
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials: Provide Water for Wildlife
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials: Provide Shelter for Wildlife
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials: Provide Safe Places for Wildlife to Raise Young
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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