This is an excerpt from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Book series, “Bird Gardens.” I came across it through the National Wildlife Federation’s Habitat Steward Program and it’s such a nice succinct checklist that I wanted to share it with you. I’ll also add my own commentary in brackets next to each tip, I just can’t resist.
As we head into spring, this is a great time to run through this checklist – both to refresh existing backyard habitat elements that you already have and to consider new ones for the coming year:
• Re-create the multiple layers of plant growth found in natural areas. [Take a look around your neighborhood where development has not yet occurred and see what the original habitat looked like and included. This will give ideas for creating what our native species need to thrive]
• Select plants to provide nutritional foods during different seasons. [Thinking through each season is important – whether it’s flowers from March through October or fruits from summer through winter, take a look at what your plantings offer different species through the year]
• Plant shrubs and small trees in same-species clumps for adequate pollination of fruits. [This is especially important for holly plants and others that require a male and female plant]
• Provide at least one clump of evergreens. [With the winter snows we got this year, you can see how important evergreens can be. They provide a nice shelter for wildlife during harsh weather. Additionally, they provide nice nesting sites for birds that can be well hidden]
• Leave dead trees, standing or fallen, to provide nesting and foraging sites. Consider topping dead trees rather than removing the whole tree if safety is an issue. [Snags play such an important role in our ecosystem. The insects that work to decompose them provide great food for various birds and they provide the right sort of wood for woodpeckers to make cavities that are used both by them and secondary users for nest sites]
• Leave vines, or plant native additions. [Vines like the Virginia Creeper, Trumpet Vine and yes, even Poison Ivy, provide great food sources for birds through the fall migration]
• Limit the size of your lawn for less mowing, less fertilizing, less watering, and less pollution. [Lawns have an interesting history in our culture and I’ll do a whole blog post on that at some point but for now, just a note that lawns are actually a wasteland when it comes to wildlife benefit and in fact because of all the things we do to make them look as they “should,” we pollute our environment and waste water]
• Avoid invasive exotic (non-native) plants. [Plants and animals evolve together and the introduction of non-natives impacts that web of life]
• Supply a source of water – dripping or running water is a better attractant than still water. [Bird baths and backyard ponds are wonderful features – the sound of running water is irresistible to many animals because it sounds so fresh and good]
• Provide and monitor nest boxes of various types. [This is a great way to learn more about our resident birds as you get to watch them use the habitat around them in raising their brood]
• Leave some leaf litter on the ground. [Leaf litter is excellent – both for overwintering butterflies and other insects that need to get through the winter. In addition, as leaves decompose they provide rich nutrients that enrich the soil and make a healthier habitat in general. Birds will forage through leaf litter in search for food]
• Stop using pesticides in your yard. [Pesticides disrupt the balance in nature, harm other animals and get into our groundwater]
• Use only organic, slow release fertilizers, preferably your own compost, if needed. [Similar to pesticides, fertilizers do far more harm than good – leaf litter and other natural compost is the best remedy if you need to fertilize]
Restoring habitat in our backyard is a great way to draw in wildlife and get to learn more about them. I saved a pdf version of this checklist here so you can download it and use it: Checklist for Creating a Bird Friendly Yard.
You can also find more resources for backyard gardening and creating backyard wildlife habitat on our Habitat Restoration page of the website.