Ecosystem Gardening Essentials: Provide Safe Places to Raise Young

Eastern Kingbird on Nest

We’ve already discussed three Ecosystem Gardening Essentials:

And now we’ll talk about the final essential element to creating welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden, providing safe places to raise their young.

Keep Cats Indoors

Keep Your Cats Indoors

Safe places to raise young means a place protected from predators. And the number one predator of baby birds is not hawks, owls, raccoons, snakes, or coyotes. The biggest danger to nesting birds is your family cat. Please keep your cat indoors and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

According to the American Bird Conservancy:

There is no question that birds are better off when cats stay indoors. Exact numbers are unknown, but scientists estimate that every year in the United States alone, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, and more than a billion small mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks. Feline predators include both domestic cats that spend time outdoors and stray cats that live in the wild, sometimes as part of a colony.

I know this is upsetting to many people, and I’ve heard every excuse in the book about allowing cats to go outdoors:

“I feed my cat so much he isn’t hungry when he goes outside.”

“My cat wears a bell.”

“My cat would never kill anything.”

“My cat is not happy inside.”

The truth is, cats kill birds and other wildlife just because they can. It’s their nature. So please keep them indoors. Plus, it’s much safer for your cat to remain indoors. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a squished cat laying by the side of the road in my neighborhood, a victim of a collision with a moving vehicle.

I have three cats of my own. We love them very much–and they stay inside.

Safe Places to Raise Young

Safe places to raise young comes in many forms, and means so much more than bird houses.

While some birds are ground nesters and build their nests in the leaf litter (Ovenbirds come to mind), many other species of wildlife live in the leaf litter and find safety to raise their young. This includes salamanders, small mammals, butterflies, toads, insects, and more.

Tree snags, when they present no danger to your home or others, provide many opportunities for safely raising young. Many birds will reuse woodpecker nest cavities to raise their own broods. Butterflies, native bees, and many other insects also lay their eggs in snags.

Wildlife ponds provide a wonderful place for so many species to produce their next generation, including frogs, toads, dragonflies, and so many others. The addition of a pond to your wildlife garden will provide endless hours of pleasure for you to observe this activity.

Safe Places for Bird Nesting

Did you know that not all birds will use a bird house?

A wildlife garden full of native trees, shrubs, and perennials will go a long way in providing many birds a safe place to raise their young.

With a little forethought, your springtime Ecosystem Garden can be a welcoming haven for many different nesting birds.

So many species of birds have specialized nesting needs that you need to take the time to think of which species of birds you most want to attract and plan your Ecosystem Garden accordingly.  Here are just a few to get you started:

Bluebirds in the wildlife garden

Bluebirds in Your Wildlife Garden

Raising bluebirds in your Ecosystem Garden is the dream of many. I, too have dreamed this dream, but my city garden surrounded by many old trees is not their desired habitat. They like open fields with trees along the edges. And it takes a lot of work to keep your bluebird boxes free of House Sparrows who also love this habitat. If you have the space and an open area you can provide welcoming habitat for these beautiful birds.

Chickadees in the wildlife garden

Chickadees in the Wildlife Garden

It was a chickadee who first grabbed my heart strings and set me on my journey to become a wildlife gardener. These gregarious birds may be the easiest birds to convince to nest in your Ecosystem Garden. Chickadees will use a nest box, and in my wildlife garden have learned to have their first brood before the House Wrens return from their winter migratory homes.

Purple Martins in the wildlife garden

Purple Martins in the Wildlife Garden

Purple Martins are colony nesters, and establishing your own nesting colony would be a dream come true. They also migrate in extremely large flocks and are a wonder to behold as they stage at various places along their migratory route. Welcome these stunning birds to your habitat garden, and you will be truly blessed.

Despite Our Best Intentions

Killdeer on Nest

And sometimes, despite our best intentions, a bird may choose to nest in an unexpected or unwanted place, like this Killdeer who chose to build its nest in the middle of a parking lot. I’ve had many people ask me how to discourage birds from nesting in unwanted places, like the lamp that hangs over their front door, or their favorite hanging plant.

If we provide lots of opportunities for birds to nest in other areas of our gardens, fill those places with native trees and shrubs, leave a tree snag, let the fallen leaves be we may be able to entice birds to nest in these areas and not right above our front door.

But sometimes no matter what we do some bird will build a nest in an inconvenient spot. What I do in this situation is decide to enjoy the show. It will only be a few weeks of inconvenience and the joys of observing the life cycle of these birds by far compensates me for any hardship. What you do in that circumstance is up to you, but you may find that you can accommodate these birds and learn from the experience. I hope so :)

How are you providing safe places for birds and other wildlife to raise their young? What nesting birds do you have in your wildlife garden? Leave a comment below to share your experience. We’d love to hear from you!

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.

© 2011 – 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Outside my city window what I see most often are ravens and pigeons. While I’m not so fond of the pigeons, despite the colorful iridescence of their plumage, I always welcome the ravens. I love their squawks and calls. Occasionally, I am fortunate to see a hawk soaring overhead, rarely close enough to identify. Always a thrill to see those.

    Occasionally colorful songbirds pass through our neighborhood, and I may catch a glimpse of one or two as they flit from tree to tree. They appear, from a distance, to be little green finches. In the springtime, quite often I recognize the cheep and song of the red-breasted robin.

    That sums up what I see outside my yardless apartment windows and in walks around my neighborhood. In Golden Gate Park, of course, we see more varieties, and if one knows where to look in San Francisco, she can find whole flocks of parrots.
    Kathryn Grace recently posted..Grabbing the dragon’s tail and hanging on as if our lives depended on it

  2. says

    I continue to try and entice more birds to nest in the yard…a robin family gave it 3 tries in the tree off our front porch…the third time they were successful…we enjoyed the show even though it took almost 4 months….I leave leaf litter and have more native shrubs to entice them now too. I also have bird houses but boy that can make for some interesting times…of course the pond is wonderful for wildlife…we shall see this year who comes and stays to raise their broods…
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..The Making of a Meadow

  3. says

    Although I recently lost my last cat due to a tumor, they were always indoor cats and very happy. It’s safer for them as you said and recently I’ve seen stories daily about cats disappearing and it’s often blamed on coyotes. Both of my cats led long, happy indoor lives.

    You’re right, a place to raise young goes way beyond bird houses and most people don’t consider insects. Of course we often think of larval host plants for butterflies, but it’s even more simple than that. Just having a simple, dense shrub or groundcover is often a great way to provide this too. On my little city balcony I’ve had, two years in a row now, lady beetle’s lay eggs and hatch on my balcony. This year I had two different species, the usual Asian Lady Beetles, but also a native one. They have laid eggs on clover, lettuce and most recently a spearmint plant. Also consider solitary bee houses or simply leaving areas of bare soil for ground nesting bees. Everyone can provide a place to raise young no matter what kind of space you have!
    Kelly Brenner recently posted..Foragings:: The latest news, resources, designs and more

  4. julianna says

    we do see the occasional bluebird coming by, and tons of juncos, sparrows, titmice, doves, chick-a-dees, and woodpeckers. we plant a lot of natives for them and throw out seed in the winter and nesting months. we’re trying to provide habitat and food for all sorts of critters – from insects to turkeys. we do have one outdoor cat and 2 indoor cats – we cannot keep the outdoor one inside, she will destroy things until she gets her way and goes back out. last time we tried, she ruined 8 suitcases by using them as a litterbox. we had just moved and kept her inside for the first month, thinking it was going better than expected when we discovered that she was in the basement back room wreaking havoc.. we had to throw them all away and bleach out the entire room, not fun. of course, we would much rather that she stay inside for her own sake, as well as for the birds – but we have no choice in the matter, simple, it is not! so we feed the birds in an open area where she cannot creep up on them and wait for the day when she finally gets too old to want to – 11 years and counting so far.. and feel guilty. and try to make up for it by planting yet another native.. :)

  5. Susan says

    We live in the country so we get a lot of wildlife but even so we leave up the dead trees and the ones that fall down, we are planting native perennials and shrubs and we no longer have any cats. We have put up two birdhouses: one for bluebirds and got a pair of tree swallows that I loved watching and a purple martin house, so far empty. We also found a nearly starved screech owl, took him to a rehabber who kept him for about 2 months until he was well. My husband made and put up an owl house. We fed the owl frozen mice for several months (putting them on top of his house) but we haven’t seen him again, but believe that he is well.


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