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Extension: Welcoming wildlife
Box turtle

With quarantine fresh in our memory and working from home more prevalent in our day to day lives, many people have tried to develop a space in their home that is dedicated to relaxing. Peaceful settings can be hard to come by, especially in the busy and crowded homes we find ourselves in, but there may be one option you have not yet considered: transforming your back yard into a wildlife sanctuary. 

How could hosting wildlife in your landscape possibly benefit anyone? Watching wildlife can provide entertainment several ways: birds eating at birdfeeders are a classic example, but you can also attract deer, rabbits, and pollinators in your environment depending on what is available to them. The presence of wildlife is not only diverting, but it helps with ecosystem balance. Habitat loss is an ever-increasing pressure on our native wildlife, but providing shelter and resources in your back yard will offset some negative ecological impacts. 

To make your landscape more attractive to wildlife, you have to provide four things: food, water, shelter, and space. These factors will change depending on the animal you are trying to attract, so doing a little research can go a long way.  

You can directly feed birds by supplying feed in birdfeeders but avoid directly feeding other types of wildlife. Birds will not develop a strong reliance on bird feeders, but other species will become accustomed to being fed by humans. This is ultimately harmful because it encourages them to approach people, which can be dangerous to both the animal and people. Using plant native plants to encourage animals to your property is a safer method of encouraging wildlife. Wildlife species have developed alongside native plants, so they naturally seek out native grasses, fruits, and seed. You can also encourage species that prey on insects by allowing insects to live. Insects provide the basis of many animals’ diets, so reducing your pesticide use will provide wildlife with more insects to prey on.  

All living creatures need water of some sort as well. Water can be provided by natural sources such as puddles or plants with cupped leaves, but you can also add features to your landscape to hold water. The classic example of this is a birdbath, but any shallow dish will work as well. If you add pebbles or marbles to the bottom of a dish filled with water, you provide a landing spot for insects that need to land before drinking water. You can also use a paver in your patio that has a depression where water collects during rain.  

Shelter will take different forms for different wildlife species. You can give birds and bats shelter by installing houses, but for lizards and insects, a rock or stick pile would be much more beneficial. Leaving plant stubble in fall and winter also acts as habitat for insects that need dead plant material to overwinter. Standing dead trees called “snags” are an incredibly valuable habitat for cavity-roosting species such as bats, woodpeckers, owls, and some species of bees. When you offer many different plants in your landscape, you diversify the type of habitat that is available for wildlife, so try to offer different types of plant.  

Finally, why was space included as a requirement for wildlife? Wildlife is naturally uncomfortable in the presence of human beings and encroaching on their space makes wildlife unpredictable. This can lead to dangerous interactions between people and wildlife, so it is in the interest of all parties to give wildlife space. Other ways you can provide a safe space for wildlife is by omitting sticky traps or netting from your landscape. These items will trap any animal that is unfortunate to come across them, and it causes a slow painful death. Also avoid using poisons outdoors because it endangers animals other than the target pest. In addition to this, predatory species may eat a poisoned prey species, and this causes illness or death in non-target species.  

By welcoming wildlife into your landscape and watching their interactions, your understanding of the natural world will grow. If you have questions about wildlife, please contact Forsyth County Extension.  

What might you see? 

Songbirds, Raptors, Turkey, Armadillos, Raccoons, Deer, Snakes, Lizards, Turtles, Rabbits, Frogs and toads, Pollinators, Bats and Squirrels