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Meeting the Needs of Wildlife

Related Terms: wildlife, need, food, water, shelter, space, animals, habitat, bird feeder, seed, plant, berry, birdbath, snag, nest

Meeting the Needs of Wildlife

To make your yard attractive and useful to wildlife, you must provide their four essential needs: food, water, shelter, and space. These four elements are the fundamental ingredients of a healthy home or habitat for wildlife.


Food | Water | Shelter | Space


Providing wildlife with their favourite foods is a great start in attracting them to your property. You can supply food for wildlife through supplemental feeding and planting.


Supplemental feeding, such as putting out bird feeders, can make it easier for wildlife to survive harsher times. However, while putting out seeds and other food helps provide for wildlife, planting helps to meet more than just their need for food. Therefore, a well-planned garden should include plantings to meet a greater diversity of wildlife needs throughout their life stages and the changing seasons.


In planting for wildlife, a diversity of plants will attract the greatest variety of wildlife. A combination of evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs (especially berry-producing ones), grasses, and flowers (especially native flowers) will provide plentiful food. Plants also attract insects that birds, bats, and other wildlife feed on. If you are interested in attracting a particular species, find out what it likes to eat.


Water is the basis for all life. Add a source of water to your yard and you will be amazed at the wildlife you attract. Without a nearby water source, you limit which wildlife will take advantage of the food you provide. If space limitations prohibit a pond, you can still provide water with a small birdbath. Add the sound of moving water and your yard will become even more enticing. Even a simple drip can attract more birds to your yard.


Wildlife need shelter to protect them from inclement weather and predators, and to provide them with places to raise their young. An absence or shortage of shelter limits the wildlife that will visit your property.


Planting evergreens provides effective cover in the cold winter months. Deciduous trees are used by many species through the spring and summer. Structures such as rock, log, and brush piles are also very useful to wildlife.


Snags (i.e., dying or dead trees) are particularly beneficial to wildlife. Many species of wildlife depend on snags for a place to live and raise their young. Snags also provide a wealth of food in the form of insects for such species as woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and nuthatches. On smaller properties or in proximity to houses, parking areas, paths or play areas, ensure any snags don’t pose any danger. Cut off branches and shorten the snag so that it won’t damage property or people if it falls over in a storm.


Nesting boxes, if placed in a good location, help to make up for any shortage of places for birds to nest.


Different types of wildlife require different amounts of space. Most birds, such as red-tailed hawks and downy woodpeckers, are territorial and will defend their feeding and nesting space against others of the same species. Other birds, such as American goldfinches and brown-headed cowbirds, are not territorial and will share nesting and feeding areas. This territoriality among birds can change depending on the season, with many birds, such as the black-capped chickadee, becoming more territorial during the breeding season. Your yard might welcome flocks of these birds in the winter, but only a pair in the spring.


Consider more than the two-dimensional size of your yard. Many birds view your property in three-dimensional terms. They may nest in your shrubs, forage on the ground, and perch in the top branches of your tree. Having many layers on your property, therefore, can increase the "space" of the habitat.


Look to neighbouring natural areas or parks to expand the size of your habitat. If you include features of that habitat on your property, wildlife will see your garden as an extension of their existing habitat and you will be able to attract species that would otherwise see your property as too small.


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