I am often asked how a landscape can be changed or added to so that it will attract more wildlife. Usually, this means birds and butterflies and not pesky mammals.
Birds and other wildlife live in areas that give them the proper food, water and shelter. We call these areas habitats. Ducks live in lake habitats. Squirrels live in forested habitats. Bison live in prairie habitats, and so on. When different habitats come together, they create a hybrid habitat called an edge habitat. Edges have some animals and plants from each of the contributing habitats and some that live only in that edge habitat. Edges with large areas of pure habitats on either side have the largest number of species.
Birds that spend the summer in one kind of habitat in North America may spend the winter in a different habitat in South America. We rarely think too much about what our birds are doing down there, but as more research is being done we are finding that they play an important role in the ecosystem of both continents. They help to pollinate flowers and contribute to seed dispersal in many plant species up here. Some South American plants are also dependent on our birds for these botanical functions.
Many of our pure habitats have been shrunk to very small sizes. At the same time, the edge habitats have greatly increased. Animal species that depend on large areas of the same kind of habitat have declined along with their habitats. Animals that tolerate or prefer edges have prospered.
A large woodlot is often viewed as the perfect place to build a home and enjoy living in the woods. Once the streets, parkways, lawns and backyards are all in, there is no longer a woods, but there is lots of edge. Subdivisions built in farm fields start out with little diversity, but as time goes by and plants are added, the diversity comes. Subdivisions change from something like a prairie to a large edge habitat.
By planting a diversity of plants on your property, you are creating more habitat. You will have more food sources and more nesting places, so a larger variety of birds and butterflies will come to your property.
Flowering shrubs and trees are not only pretty for us to look at but they also provide nectar and attract insects for migratory birds to eat. Later they will provide seeds or fruit for the birds to eat while migrating back south for the winter.
Shelter from storms, cold and wind must be provided. Evergreens and thick shrubs do this well. Shelter for raising a family is also provided by evergreens and thick shrubs, but some species will benefit from the addition of birdhouses. The feature in a landscape that will attract the most birds is water. Even a simple birdbath is better than nothing. A shallow beach area on the edge of a water garden will attract the most birds.
Jeff Rugg's column, "A Greener View," can be found at www.creators.com.