By Roger Clay, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
Homeowners who wish to attract wildlife to their back yards spend millions of dollars annually. A myriad of birdfeeder models are available. Stores sell as wide a selection of seeds as they do a variety of feeders, including sunflower seed, thistle, and millet. Everyone knows water is essential to life, so along with birdseed, birdbaths, water drippers, and even backyard ponds are all available. If you have put out the food and have the water present but are puzzled over the lack of birds and other wildlife, you might be missing another important component that wild animals need – shelter.
All wildlife species need four components of their surroundings to survive: food, water, space, and shelter or cover. True, the specific needs of a cottontail rabbit and the needs of a green salamander may be quite different but they both need the proper blend of those components to survive and thrive in the wild.
If you are that rabbit or small goldfinch, you know there are a number of predators, including the bobcat and Cooper’s hawk, who would love to eat you. In these situations, shelter is truly a lifesaver in giving the small prey species an opportunity to escape the clutches of predators.
Homeowners should look around their property and try to view the land from the songbird’s perspective and ask themselves, “Where can I run to and find cover?” Many housing developments in the state’s growing areas are built upon former croplands and pecan orchards, which, by their very nature, offer little in the way of cover. Regardless of the location, the first step in many subdivision construction projects is to clear the land of all the brush and small trees. While this practice may make construction easier, valuable wildlife habitat is lost, leaving new homes sitting out in the open.
If you live in one of these developments, what can you do to increase the cover in your yard? Most homeowners plant shrubbery around their houses. This is certainly a good first step as the shrubbery
provides a quick escape for the songbirds that are attracted to bird feeders erected around the homes.
Underneath the bushes, amphibians and reptiles can also escape predators and avoid the hot summer sun. When planting bushes consider native plants that can provide not only shelter but also fruits and berries for wildlife consumption.
A shelter for wildlife need not be live plants. If you are tired of hauling off limbs and tree debris, you can construct a brush pile that will attract a variety of small critters. By layering logs and limbs, larger ones at the base, you can create a shelter that is impenetrable to large animals from the outside but provides ample space on the inside for reptiles, birds, and mammals to easily move about to escape danger from other animals or inclement weather.
Finally, if you have that corner of your lot that you are tired of keeping neat and trimmed, let it go wild and grow thick. It will save you the yard work and benefit the wildlife around your property--just make sure you aren’t breaking any neighborhood covenants. For more information, contact Roger Clay, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, P.O. Box 247, Daphne, AL 36526.