There’s no place like home to enjoy nature
Would you like to commune with nature without leaving your backyard? It’s possible and not difficult to accomplish when property owners follow a few helpful tips.
According to Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Biologist Mike Strunk, landowners can attract wildlife to their property by focusing on providing food, water, and cover.
“You are always going to have wildlife on your property if you have those three essentials,” Strunk commented.
Deciding which plants, shrubs, and trees to plant is an important first step. Strunk cautions landowners to plant only native species since many of the popular, non-native species may rapidly spread and “take over” the area by crowding out native plants.
“Many vendors at the big home-improvement stores sell non-native or ornamental plants and trees,” Strunk cautioned. “Sales associates may not realize they are selling shrubs, grasses, or trees that can be detrimental.”
Strunk urges folks to do their own research and select only native plants before buying. He also recommends choosing plants and trees that are suitable for the type of wildlife desired on the landowner’s property.
“Wild plum, silky dogwood, hazel nuts, and crab apples are excellent native species. Deer and turkey are especially fond of native apples,” Strunk shared. “Trees with soft mast are beneficial in summer. The old time, native canning pear is a good one.”
When trying to attract pollinators, it is important to provide cover. Butterflies need plants that will provide nourishment for both the caterpillar and adult butterfly stages.
Native berry bushes, including blackberries and blueberries, are important sources of food for birds as are native wildflowers.
At one time, Kentucky’s prairies were known for their spectacular blends of native wildflowers and grasses. Today, the native prairie is one of the rarest plant communities in North America. Both prairies and meadows need sunny, open sites and wildflowers must be matched with the correct light, soil, and moisture conditions. Coneflower, coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, aster, salvia, ox-eyed daisy and other Kentucky prairie/meadow natives are known to attract wildlife. Native wild grasses that grow well with the wildflowers include sideoats grama, little bluestem, big bluestem, and indiangrass.
Providing food for birds at bird feeders during the winter months is an excellent way to attract feathered friends; however, Strunk cautions that feeders need to be taken in during the spring and summer in order to avoid attracting nuisance bears looking for food. If birdfeeders are left out year round, they should at least be moved inside at night.
When taking bird feeders in during the spring, Strunk recommends a yearly cleaning for all feeders using a 10% bleach solution. The yearly cleaning helps stop the spread of disease among birds. Micoplasmosis, which causes swelling in the eyes of birds, can be spread by infected birds-especially as they pull their heads in and out of the openings of tube feeders. The deadly disease can lead to the loss of life for many birds.
Bird baths and small pools of circulating water can serve as water supplies. Bird baths should be cleaned weekly to prevent disease.
Shelter and nesting areas for birds can be provided by planting native trees and shrubs suitable for nesting, erecting manmade nesting structures, and creating brush piles. Tall, native grasses supply nest building materials for birds.
Nesting structures should be built for specific species such as bluebirds, chickadees, wrens, titmice, nuthatches, screech owls, geese, and wood ducks. Nesting structures can also be built for rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons. Bird structures should be checked frequently to keep predatory or pesty mammals, birds, and insects away. Two particularly bothersome nest predators that must be controlled are house sparrows and European starlings. These two, non-native species do not get along well with other birds and are nest predators. Neither is protected by law, and humane disposal is allowed.
Brush piles require very little effort on the part of the landowner and provide excellent coverage for wildlife. While there are several different types of brush piles, two of the most common are brush piles made from limbs or brush and those made from piles of rock. Brush piles are most effective when built on a wooden base. The size and type of brush pile is dependent upon the type of wildlife desired. Brush piles are particularly useful in attracting rabbits, box turtles, lizards, songbirds, small rodents, and even black bears.
In order to not be overwhelmed while establishing your wildlife habitat, make the process easy by starting out small. Choose a knowledgeable plant vendor (preferably organic) and avoid the use of chemicals if possible. Enjoy the process as each component of your habitat is added. Create pathways through flowers, shrubs, and trees to make observing and photographing wildlife more pleasurable.
Finally, don’t attempt to touch wild animals. Remember to be like Dr. DoLittle and talk kindly to the animals visiting your habitat. You’ll quickly discover both you and your newfound friends enjoy the conversation!