By Mitchell Marks, Wildlife Biologist
Alabama is blessed with an abundance of wildlife. Whether you live in a rural environment or a suburban one, most Alabamians have the opportunity to view wildlife regularly. According to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 39 percent of the population of Alabama view, photograph or in some fashion enjoy wildlife annually. Many of these wildlife enthusiasts work to enhance the areas where they live to draw animals in their back yards for viewing. Most use feeders and/or nest boxes; some even go to the extreme of landscaping their yards to intentionally attract wildlife.
Wild animals have four basic needs: food, water, shelter and space. Regardless of where you live, you should be able to draw some type of wildlife to your back yard. By far, birds are the easiest to attract and the most popular animals watched. Feeders are the most common enhancement used to attract birds. Feeders that will keep seed dry in inclement weather are best and there are many designs to choose from. You may decide to build it yourself, or buy one from a local store. Remember to place feeders in a convenient place for viewing. Make sure the location is not easily accessible to predators such as the neighborhood cat. Also, provide a variety of foods such as sunflower or Niger thistle seeds, cracked corn, peanuts, grain sorghum or millets for seed eating birds and suet cakes for woodpeckers and other insect eating species.
Different species of birds will be attracted to different types of foods. Some birds, such as mourning doves, require grit in their diet. You might want to place some course sand or small gravels nearby as an additional attractant. For hummingbirds, a hanging feeder filled with nectar substitute, or sugar water mixture, can provide hours of enjoyment. You can also plant different flowers -- reds and yellows are best -- that will bring hummingbirds in close. Many flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds may also be attractive to butterflies and moths.
Birdbaths are the most popular means of providing water. While the birds are drinking, they bathe to keep their feathers clean. Birdbaths need to be cleaned regularly. During the winter months, some type of heat source will be required to keep the water from freezing. Small areas of bare ground, known as dusting areas, are also beneficial. This is especially true during warmer months when parasites are usually highest in number.
Shelter can come in many forms. The easiest form of shelter a person can provide is a nest box. It can be a single-family dwelling, a multi-level complex or a string of gourds. For small birds like wrens, a hanging potted plant or nearby shrub may be all the shelter that is needed. The plants that you landscape your back yard with can provide shelter as well as food for many species. Plants like the Eastern red cedar can provide food, nest cover and shelter from bad weather while adding a splash of green to your backyard year round.
All animals like an easy meal, so don’t be surprised if a squirrel, chipmunk, opossum, or even a raccoon shows up at your feeder for choice seeds or seeds spilled onto the ground for an easy meal. For those who are fortunate enough to live in a more rural setting, odds are you will see deer and if you are lucky, a flock of wild turkeys may even venture in.
If you provide all of the basic requirements wildlife need to survive, you will most likely be successful in viewing many species, up close and personal, right in your own back yard.