Landscaping for Wildlife and Biodiversity How you can cultivate a wildlife friendly habitat and promote biodiversity By providing a few important elements, and avoiding use of chemicals, you can create a wildlife-friendly, biodiverse and ecologically healthy back yard • Food, especially native plant and tree species • Fresh water • Nest sites and cover • Nest materials • Healthy ecosystem Planting native species does not require giving up a beautiful landscape. It is also a step toward re-establishing habitat that lawns and non-native plantings have replaced. FOOD Non-native plants crowd out native species and don’t host the same insect populations. Particularly in the case of birds, decrease in insect host plants have an immense effect on food availability. One chickadee brood of four to six young can require over 9,000 caterpillars. Oak trees can support more than 500 species of caterpillars. Non-native plants may not host any. Beautiful, but… Non-native landscape plants and prolific fruiters like the Burning Bush (Winged Euonymus) and Multiflora Rose can escape gardens and spread quickly. Birds usually prefer native fruits to the less nutritious fruits of non-native plants. Many native fruit and seed producing plants are attractive for landscaping. Winterberry is a native wetland shrub and a valuable food source for winter birds, such as the Cedar Waxwing. High-bush Cranberry blooms provide food for butterflies, bees and other pollinators, as well as fruit for birds. Shadblow (Amelanchier), also known as Serviceberry or Juneberry, blooms in April and fruits in June, providing early blossoms for honey bees and some of the earliest fruits of the season. This native understory tree is a hardy and attractive landscape species. Don’t think of natives like goldenrod as weeds… Goldenrod can add fall color to your landscape and provide an important nectar source for bees and butterflies in late summer. Don’t blame goldenrod for your allergies: goldenrod pollen is not airborne. Another common plant which most gardeners might be tempted to weed out is Jewelweed or Impatiens. The nectar-rich orange or yellow flowers are favorites of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. As a bonus, Jewelweed is an antidote to Stinging Nettle irritations and itchy mosquito bites. Jewelweed seed pods burst open when brushed, giving its alternate name, Touch-Me-Not. Hardy native Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) attracts bees and butterflies during blooming. Last year the rare Giant Swallowtail spent a number of days at the Sheep Hill coneflowers. In addition to planting for insect pollinators, attract them by building these cool insect habitats to replace the habitats they are losing. Providing native plants is an effective way of feeding birds their natural diet during the summer and helping to fuel their migration, just as feeding bird seed augments their winter diet. Leave coneflower and other seed-rich flower heads standing in the fall for migrating sparrows, finches and other seedeaters. WATER Birds use birdbaths for drinking and to keep their feathers healthy. Birdbaths and other small water features are important water sources for all backyard wildlife, including insects and small mammals. Add a dripper or other moving water feature to increase the attraction. Keep all water sources clean and in summer, replace the water daily. Birds need fresh water during the winter, too. There are many options for heated bird baths on the market. NEST SITES AND COVER Birds need safe places for nest building, such as thick undergrowth or high tree canopies. This Yellow Warbler nest lined with cattail down was deep inside a Multiflora rose bush. Most nests are not used again once the young have fledged. Nest boxes attract cavity nesting species such as Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and wrens. Bluebirds and swallows need open grassy areas for foraging, but the other species will do well in backyards or wooded areas. Small songbirds will huddle together in nest boxes in bitter cold weather, and Flying Squirrels and mice also use them for winter shelter. Clean nest boxes out each spring to ensure a healthy brood. Habitat isn’t always outside! Open buildings are perfect for birds that build mud nests, such as the Barn Swallow and Eastern Phoebe, which need to find a sheltered spot out of the weather for their nests. They will reuse nests or rebuild in the same location for many years. Install small wood platforms under eaves to provide additional habitat for birds often associated with buildings. Cover Evergreens and thickets Birds and small mammals need protection from predators and severe weather. Birds will roost close to the trunk of dense conifers in cold, windy, and harsh weather. Hedges and dense shrubbery give good cover and protected nest sites. Bird’s Nest Spruce Juniper Brush Piles If you have an open area with little natural cover, a brush pile is a simple way to provide cover and protection. Fallen branches, twigs, and leaves can be piled loosely together to make a safe haven for birds and small creatures. Recycled Christmas trees make good brush piles through the spring. Brush piles can be any size; place them where exposure to predators is the greatest. Snags Snags are used for singing and hunting perches and nest sites, and they provide a source of food for insects and birds that eat them. Dead or decaying trees are an important part of the ecosystem and are used by 25% of terrestrial species of wildlife, including birds and mammals. A fallen tree provides a home for insects and animals and helps enrich the soils as it decays. If not a threat to property or people, leave dying trees standing. Lawn care accounts for 70 million pounds of pesticide application in the U.S. every year, 10 times more than farming. A perfect lawn is a monoculture, and since nature strives for diversity the battle to keep out non-grass plants is a losing one. Remember – this lawn was once a habitat. Less lawn, or a less perfect lawn, means more space for native plants, trees and shrubs. Replacing even a small area of lawn with native plantings will raise the biodiversity of your yard. WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR Don’t create an ecological trap: if your yard provides the only habitat in an area, wildlife will be at risk coming and going, and will spend more energy to reach food sources that are farther away. Don’t attract wildlife to areas with known hazards, such as domestic cats, responsible for killing billions of songbirds every year. (1.7 to 3.4 billion according to one study) Reduce use of chemicals There are now many natural products on the market for ridding your household and yard of pests and weeds. Chemicals can harm important pollinators, birds, and people. Individuals can make a difference In Bringing Nature Home, author Doug Tallamy writes that gardeners could play a pivotal role in creating safe havens for wildlife. “It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something we all dream of doing: to make a difference. In this case, the ‘difference’ will be to the future of biodiversity, to the native plants of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them. “ Nature is perfect, but we don’t always appreciate its perfection. We should all strive for less perfection in our outside spaces.