It was nice enough out today that I put up the bluebird houses. It’s been a cold winter here in Western North Carolina, more so than usual. I just moved last month to a new place and started thinking about attracting wildlife. I knew I had to get the bluebird houses up before the beginning of February, but there’s so much more to do!
Food for wildlife
There are several ways that you can provide food for wildlife. One is to put up bird feeders. There are many types of feeders including tube type, thistle feeders, platforms and hoppers. Choose the right type for the birds you want to attract. Tube feeders accommodate many smaller birds such as finches and sparrows. (Find tube feeders here.) Thistle feeders are made just for tiny thistle seed. Goldfinches, titmice, house finches and chickadees all love thistle. (Find thistle feeders here.) Platform feeders are low sided squares or rectangles that allow larger birds to eat. (Find platform feeders here.) Among these are towhees, cardinals and jays. Hoppers allow you to feed just about anyone. (Find them here.) You can use almost any type of feed, though black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite of almost all birds.
Another way to provide food is to grow plants that animals like to eat from. Nut and fruit trees are good for birds and deer. Last year I had deer coming to my pear tree in the back yard. Squirrels love corn and peanuts. They also love bird seeds, but if I plant corn and leave it for them, they seem to leave the seed alone. Many birds love berries that some bushes provide, such as service berry, blackberry, blueberry and roses. Yes, they love the vitamin-rich hips too! Many animals like the seeds that come in the fall from garden plants. Among these would be thistle, echinacea, milkweed, marigold and coreopsis, rudbeckia and other small cone flowers. And during the summer, hummingbirds and butterflies feed from the flowers.
Water for wildlife
Providing water for wildlife can be as simple as allowing them to drink from a pond or stream on your property. But often, this isn’t available. As an alternative, you can put up a bird bath and provide clean water frequently. To help keep it clean and keep the algae at a minimum, drop a penny or a small piece of copper tubing into the bath. The copper inhibits algae growth and the zinc in the penny won’t harm the birds.
You can also dig a pond. It can be as small as a tire in the ground with a piece of liner over it, or as large as an acre. Either way, the birds and small animals will love you for it. If you can keep the water moving, such as with a fountain or waterfall, you’ll attract even more birds.
Freezing can be a problem for any of the water you’re providing for wildlife. You can use a heater specially made for birdbaths (like this). Or you can heat a pan and put it on top of the ice for a bit. This will melt some of the ice and provide some water. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that if there is snow, the animals don’t need water. It takes a lot of energy for a small body to melt snow to the point at which it can be used.
Cover for wildlife
Cover is one of the most important things you can provide for wildlife. It can be as simple as planting bushes in your yard. Many birds love flitting from bush to bush in search of food. Dense thickets of juniper, yew or cedar will help birds to survive. Other small animals can hide under them too, such as rabbits. In the winter this can prevent animals from freezing to death, and in the summer it can shade them from the heat or provide cover from hawks and owls.
One of the smartest things you can do with your live Christmas tree after the season is to put it outside for cover for animals. You can also provide a brush pile with downed branches and limbs. Just be sure to place it well away from the house. Small rodents can take up residence and you don’t want to provide them with an easy way to get inside.
A place to raise young
All animals need a place to raise their young. Many birds will take up residence in a cavity in an old tree. By leaving these trees, you help them. Later, larger birds and sometimes ducks will enlarge the hole to make it their own. The wood duck will often make a hole larger and deeper to discourage predators.
You can put up bird houses to simulate holes in trees, such as the ones I put up today for the bluebirds. I’ve seen several in our area, so I knew they were around. The house for them, and many other birds, should be at least 3-6 feet off the ground. Nail it to a post facing a tree, but not right next to one. It should be facing an open field but faced away from prevailing winds. I set mine up to face west. And though many winds come from the west, both are facing a tree or a cane break. Water is nearby and an open field is waiting.
You can also provide birds with nest building materials. Bits of thread, yarn, fabric scraps or even lint are appreciated by some. Not all birds will use the materials provided, so don’t be discouraged if it goes untouched.
Like the movie says, build it and they will come. In the case of wildlife, provide them with food, water, shelter and a place to raise a family and they will come to your yard.
Have you found ways to attract wildlife to your yard?
photo credit to Dawn Huczek