Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Start Planning Now

many flowered aster
Many Flowered Aster leaning over the picnic table.

Leaves are beginning to fall, migrating birds are settling in, my favorite wildflowers, the autumn asters, are blooming and I’m planning what I’ll grow and do in my yard next year.

Enjoying the experience of an mild autumn afternoon or helping the birds through a cold winter day is a pleasure as I share the awareness of life in this little piece of wilderness, here in Backyard Wildlife Habitat No. 35393.

Planning Ahead

If, like me, you keep a garden of flowers or vegetables or both, you’re probably already planning out your garden for 2012 . And if you feed birds summer or winter and have an awareness of other flora and fauna in your yard and area, you might want to work a plan for a backyard wildlife habitat into this year’s garden, or you might find that you’ve already got the important parts and you want to enhance or start expanding it.

Just What Is a Backyard Wildlife Habitat?

photo of yard in spring with bench under trees
The woodland garden in spring.

It’s not turning your yard into a weed patch, as I’ve heard some people worry. It’s simply providing for the needs of your native species of flora and fauna so that they can thrive and reproduce.

Basically, if you have a bird feeder and bird bath, you or your neighbors have a few mature trees of various species and some dense twiggy shrubs or evergreens and flowering plants in your yard, you are providing for the needs of many species. And you can even provide habitat if you live in an apartment; if you feed birds outside your apartment window and have hanging baskets of plants that attract hummingbirds, and your neighbor has trees with nesting opportunities for wildlife, you have created a habitat.

And not just for birds and mammals. You are also providing opportunities for growth and reproduction for plants and trees by allowing them to grow in an appropriate habitat, and, since they are pretty much stuck in one spot and depend on insects, birds and animals to reproduce and spread their seeds, you’re providing that as well by attracting the birds.

Insects use plants for food, nesting and reproduction, and birds and other species such as bats eat insects. It all works together.

diagram aof backyard
Diagram of my backyard

You can build on this basis and provide specific native plants that flower in various seasons, not just summer, you can feed all year, provide nesting boxes, leave the plants in your garden through the winter, and so on, each action providing more and more for your native species.

The concept is really not any more complicated than that. I had mine registered through the National Wildlife Federation in 2003 after I had spent a few years doing an inventory of all that was here and adding and arranging things until I felt it was ready.

Today I see information on these habitats in garden centers and birding stores and organizations, at the zoo and through local environmental organizations. I’m glad to see it’s so readily available and easy to understand, and especially that many schools are using backyard wildlife habitats as learning tools.

You can go as far as you want with it, and if you stay with bird feeders and bird baths and the right kind of shrubs and native plants to provide cover, nesting sites and nesting materials, you are providing a great service to your local area in helping to preserve your native species.

The Eco-system

photo of bird bath in garden
The bird bath in the shade garden © 2010 B.E. Kazmarski

Nature finds a balance that allows all species within a given area to thrive. That area can be your back yard, or it can be an entire geographic region in which the plants and animals that depend on each other for their basic needs all tend to live together in balanced numbers.

For instance, American Goldfinches depend on milkweed, thistle and other plants with energy-rich seeds and downy fluff in flowers or seed parts for nesting material and food to the extent that they don’t nest until midsummer when these flowers are finished blooming and going to seed. They use the down to line their nests, and their young are fledging and they are about to migrate when the rich seeds are mature, and they feast on the seeds, leaving on their migration when the local seed heads are just about spent. Birds migrate by day length, not food supply, so unless there is a shortage in seeds it just works out that it’s time to go at about the time the thistle are finished.

I have managed my yard organically since I moved here 21 years ago. I have my share of insect pests but they never get out of control, and I think it’s because the resident birds take care of them. I may see a cluster of aphids on the top of a broccoli plant in the morning, by evening they are gone. When the blue jays find a tomato hornworm, they drop everything and have a Hornworm Festival, tossing it from one to another all day. I feel bad for the poor thing, but I’d feel worse if it laid its eggs and infested my precious tomatoes!

Getting it all together

This topic has so much information that I have it broken into a series of four articles covering:

  • how I established my yard as a habitat using my diagrams and plant lists as examples
  • how to find information on native species in your area
  • converting more of your lawn to vegetation
  • moving toward non-chemical methods of yard maintenance
  • feeding this, that and the other
  • identifying birds in your area
  • insect-eating residents: bats, spiders, toads, garter snakes and birds

Stay tuned for the next installment. Until then, get those wildflower, tree and bird books and start making lists!

Also read the next articles in this series:

What’s in Your Backyard? The First Step in Planning Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat

What Else is in Your Backyard: The Fauna That Fill It

Bringing it All Together: Enhancing and Developing Your Habitat

About the art and photos used in these articles and on this blog

All the images used in this blog are mine, and nearly all the birds, animals, flowers and insects are from my own backyard. I originally planned this yard as my own convenient subject matter for painting and photography and so for years I’ve been documenting the flora and fauna here in photography and art. All of the images are also available as prints and notecards, some of which I have printed and sell regularly, but I can custom print any image on my site. If you see something you’d like, check my Marketplace blog to see if it’s a recent offering, the Marketplace on my website, which outlines everything I sell as merchandise, or e-mail me if you don’t find it in either place. Please also respect that these images and this information are copyrighted to me and may not be used without my consent, but please ask if you are interested in using something and feel free to link to my articles.

Also read about my art, photography, poetry and prose inspired by my backyard wildlife habitat:

Art Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Photography Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Poetry Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Prose Inspired by My Backyard Wildlife Habitat

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

6 thoughts on “Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Start Planning Now

  • Pingback: The Creative Cat - Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: What’s Growing in Your Backyard?

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  • October 8, 2011 at 11:11 am
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    Bernadette, I loved this. We live on what used to be a 100+ acre farm which got divided over the years into smaller parcels. We keep about half of it wild with milk thistle, tons of raspberry bushes and native plants. Much to our anal manicured neighbor’s chagrin, we are dandelion loving and pesticide-free! It also provides a perfect playground for my kitty photo ops.

    Reply
    • October 8, 2011 at 11:21 am
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      Layla, I ALWAYS enjoy your photos and my kitties envy your kitties’ room to roam! My yard isn’t big enough for them to spread their legs as all of the Fantastic Four are much like Odin–they’d be in the street or in a neighbor’s yard, and each in a different direction. But Cookie is my garden sprite right now, and Mimi is beginning to join me.

      I don’t have a speck of grass in my front yard–it’s all ground covers and a rain garden. And all my neighbors cut down their trees but I am surrounded and don’t need air conditioning. Despite their landscaping preferences, they still visit my yard and tell me “it’s like a park”, and they are also glad to be the recipient of the bounty of blooming wildflowers for their own gardens each year.

      Reply
  • October 8, 2011 at 9:49 am
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    Bernadette – being here in Florida, the seasons bring barely a ripple of change. Much as I love it here, your post has waxed me poetic for my times in upstate New York as I recall how the wildlife would change. I used to love feeding the birds in the winter – we would put suet in chicken wire and cover it with nuts and seeds – my favorites were the blue jays, the chickadees, the nuthatches, and the downy crested woodpeckers that would stop by. They would become so accustomed to me being outside with them, that many a time, one would land on my shoulder, much to my delight! Enjoy your backyard preparation for me!!

    Reply
    • October 8, 2011 at 11:13 am
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      Deb, as much as I wanted to move to Chincoteague to live near the ocean and paint seascapes and study wildlife, I knew I’d miss my cycle of seasons, the changing leaves and snowy winter days. I feed the birds too, and it is totally exciting when one of them lands on me, even on my fingers and eats out of my hand! I feel like St. Francis. And like my cats when I go into the kitchen and they all gather around to eat, whenever I go out onto the deck all the birds land expectantly in the trees in the yard waiting for goodies. I have a feeder outside nearly every window in the house! I’ll be posting photos all winter that you can enjoy.

      Reply

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