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Field Notes

wildlife habitat

Create Wildlife Habitat with Native Plants

Wildlife habitat. What is it and why would you want critters in your backyard? And what kind of critters?

Animals Need Wildlife Habitat

But their habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate. And just like us, they need food, water, a place to nest & raise their young and shelter/cover from predators.

wildlife habitat
A mama opossum with her babies

There are so many animals that will benefit from improving your landscaping. Birds, butterflies, bees, opossums, turtles, flying squirrels (one of our favorites), frogs, lizards, deer, bear… The list goes on & on.

wildlife habitat
A cute frog. Photo: Wayne Robinson

But Why Do You Want Critters in Your Backyard?

But back to the question, why would you want them in your backyard. Well, bats eats hundreds of mosquitos and opossums clean up all your overripe fruit. Butterflies are beautiful to watch and who doesn’t love a turtle ambling through your garden. Wildlife nourishes the soul, at least our souls.

When we set out to attract more butterflies and bees to our yard, we really didn’t think about other animals. Let’s put in native pollinator plants and we will have more butterflies or so our thinking went.

wildlife habitat
A butterfly getting nectar from a flower

Planting lots of milkweed, ironweed, coneflower, bee balm, black eyed susans and other nectar & host plants were just the beginning. But wait, what is a host plant?

wildlife habitat
Butterfly eggs on a host plant

You Need Both Host and Nectar Plants for Butterflies

A host plant is a specific plant on which the butterfly will lay its eggs and then the emerging caterpillars will eat in order to turn into butterflies. Without host plants, there would be no butterflies and different host plants attract different butterflies. You can read more about the fascinating process on our Cool Animal Fact Sheet on Butterflies.

wildlife habitat
A flying squirrel. Photo: Alex Baadyaev/www.tenbestphotos.com

Lizards, Frogs & Opossums, Oh My!

Now that we have butterflies taken care of, what about other animals. It turns out opossums love persimmon trees. Frogs need leaf cover to hide in during the day. Lizards like exposed rocks on which to sun themselves. Flying squirrels need seeds, slugs, spiders and anything they can find. And birds need insects to feed their young. Lots of insects!

wildlife habitat
A thrush feeds her young caterpillars

How Many Insects Does a Baby Bird Eat?

Ok, how many insects? Well, let’s take a chickadee. Each chick needs more than 350 caterpillars a day for about 16 days until the baby fledges (leaves the nest) or over 5,000 catepillars. Then multiply that by the number of babies. That is a lot of bugs!

wildlife habitat
A chickadee

And those bugs rely on native plants for 90% of their diet. So no native plants, no bugs, no birds. It is pretty simple.

A study was recently done where the number of caterpillars was counted on different trees in the same neighborhood. Guess how many were on a Bradford pear (non-native)? One. How many on an oak (native)? Four hundred & ten! More than enough to feed one baby chickadee for a day.

Oh, and the oak supplies acorns which are eaten by over 100 animals. Kind of a no brainer, if in fact, you want to help wildlife.

wildlife habitat
The mighty oak supplies food to over 100 animals

How Many Insects Does a Bat Eat? An Hour?

And speaking of insects, we love bats which can eat up to 1,000 mosquitos in an hour. We definitely want them in our backyard. To learn more about bats, read Our Cool Animal Fact Sheet on Bats here.

wildlife habitat
A bat in flight. Photo:Merlin Tuttle

You can help bats by installing a bat house and providing lots of nectar flowers which will attract moths and flying insects which the bats eat.

wildlife habitat
A bat house

In researching what native plant to get for a particular critter, we found boxwood turtles like mayapples to eat and bluestem grasses in which to nest. The Northern flicker loves ants. Bluebirds eat serviceberries and opossums love persimmons.

wildlife habitat
A box turtle cruising through the garden

All Animals Need Water & Shelter

And all animals need water and shelter. So Dale has created 2 fountains from rocks he found which provide water. It is so much fun to watch the cardinals and finches taking a bath in the fountain.

wildlife habitat
A bird fountain in our backyard

And while our garden doesn’t look like the picture below (yet!), we are well on our way to attracting and helping our wildlife thrive. What’s in your backyard?

wildlife habitat
A wildlife habitat. And no, it is not ours but we hope someday…

To Learn More:

There are numerous research publications that have useful info and lots of tips for planning wildlife habitat. Check out the following:

Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants 

Pollinator Conservation Resource Center. Xerces Society

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy

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