Planting To Encourage Wildlife

Both urban and rural landscapes have potential for maintaining a favorable habitat for songbirds, rabbits, squirrels, quail and other wildlife. Attracting wildlife can have many benefits for the homeowner beyond esthetics because many birds help reduce the insect pests that attack flowers, lawns, gardens and people.

There are many human-made devices for attracting birds but there is a natural way to encourage them while beautifying landscapes. Planting shrubs, trees, vines, and other plants that serve various needs of birds provides them with a more natural place to live and a chance for humans to observe them in a natural habitat. Birds regularly feed on berries, and their favorite berries are usually bright and decorative. Their needs for shelter are met by hedges and other dense shrubbery that can fit handsomely in the urban landscape. Trees will provide sites for nesting and perching as well as offering shade to the homeowner. A water feature can provide both water for birds and a recreational area for the whole family.

Birds like variety so bear this in mind when you blend the plants attractive to birds into the conservation planned landscape of both your yard and grounds. Plan a rich intermingling of species, sizes, and shapes of plants. Lay out your plantings in varied patterns. Give birds a wide choice for their various activities from the crowns of tall trees all the way down to the low seed heads in flowerbeds and lawns.

There are any number of options as to hardwoods and conifers, vines, shrubs, and trees, grasses, flowers, and even weeds to create a landscape conservation design that will bring birds outside of windows. If the area is small, you’ll have to depend mostly on single specimen plants. But if you have extensive grounds you can use hedges, clumps, feeding strips, and other massed plantings. If you have a wooded area, a small clearing lends variety to the landscape for birds.

By studying the plants already present along with your general plan for landscaping, you can bring in a diversity of plant forms, food producers, and shelter plants that would otherwise be missing. Many common shade trees and landscape shrubs, for example, yield little food for birds. Here you may work in autumn olive, honeysuckle, or other good fruit-bearing shrubs. Yards and grounds that have only leaf-shedding trees and shrubs are improved by adding junipers, cedars, yews, and other evergreens that provide shelter to birds in winter.

Visual contact with the birds is desirable. Put the plants where they can be observed from a window, patio, or terrace. Choose those plants reported to have high bird use for best results. Careful attention to the periods of bloom and availability of choice foods makes it possible to have a succession of floral displays and bird foods throughout the year.

Here is a list of a few of the possibilities for plant material in a conservation planting. Bristly locust, Robinia fertilis, Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina, Smooth sumac, Rhus glabra, Black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia European black alder, Alnus glutinosa, Rubyredosier dogwood, Cornus stolonifera, Bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica, Eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, Tatarian honeysuckle, Lonicera tatarica, American cranberry bush, Viburnum trilobum, American holly, Rex opaca, Roselow sargent crabapple, Malus sargendi, Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis.

Bryan Butler is the Extension Educator, Carroll County, Maryland Cooperative Extension, University of Maryland

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