Written by Kaleb Ward, Programs Intern, Texan by Nature
As people become more conservation-minded they tend to try everything they can do in order to lessen their footprint. Whether this is through adopting a more sustainable lifestyle or diving right into habitat restoration efforts, progress can be made in efforts both large and small. People living in urban centers may struggle to find sustainable solutions, get outside, and make conservation apart of their day-to-day life. Fear not! If you have a backyard, you have a valuable resource. At Texan by Nature, we recognize the impact that every single person can make. This is the #TxN5WayFriday series, providing weekly insight on being Texan by Nature. Below are 5 ways to make your backyard wildlife friendly:
1. Buy/Create Bird Feeders and Bat/Butterfly Houses
To begin making your backyard more wildlife friendly, consider providing wildlife a place to call home. Creating bird feeders, bat houses, and butterfly houses is an excellent first step you could take to start attracting critters. Bird feeders make excellent stopover points for migratory birds, provide a steady source of nutrition during times of food scarcity, and help improve the survivorship of baby birds by giving adult birds easily accessible food. Bat houses are inexpensive and relatively easy to construct. They have to be located at least 15 feet above the ground, rough on the inside to the bats can cling onto the surface, and close to a water source. If bats are in your area, once constructed, the bats will arrive and start improving your backyard almost immediately. One bat can eat 500-1,000 mosquitoes in a single night, which will save you money on pesticides and protect you, your family, and pets from diseases.
When the weather cools, butterflies begin an annual migration, overwinter in a chrysalis, or hibernate as adults. A butterfly house helps support the species of butterflies that spend the winter as adults. Unlike a birdhouse, a butterfly house has long, narrow slots rather than a round hole. These slots allow access to butterflies but keep the birds out. Mourning cloaks, tortoiseshells, angel wings, and red admirals are some of the butterflies that might take refuge in a butterfly house during the winter.
2. Supplemental Water Sources
Water is essential to life, and creating this resource in your backyard can guarantee wildlife a local water source that they utilize. Water sources can be above or below ground, and are very simple to create. You could install something as complex as a below ground pond with a filtration system, or something as simple as an overturned garbage can lid. Water sources can be used by wildlife for drinking, cleaning themselves off, and even by certain animals such as birds that require wetting materials in order to construct a nest for their offspring. To make the items water holding capacity even more successful, line the bottom with rocks for a sturdy walking surface. Bacteria, mud, and algae can build up quickly, so make sure to clean them out and replace the water frequently!
3. Plant Native Trees, Shrubs, and Flowers
Native plants are adapted to the local environment and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other wildlife. Unlike natives, non-native plants often do not provide energetic rewards for their visitors and often require insect pest control to survive. Native plants are also advantageous because they do not require fertilizers and require fewer pesticides than lawns, use less water and help prevent erosion, help reduce air pollution, and may not require as much maintenance. On top of all these benefits, native plants provide shelter for wildlife and promote biodiversity right in your own backyard!
4. Create Brush Piles for Additional Habitat
Brush piles are a valuable habitat component for many wildlife species, especially in areas where good natural cover is lacking. Brush piles provide wildlife with cover for escaping predators, resting, feeding, sheltering from bad weather, and sometimes for raising young. Animals that use brush piles regularly include mammals, such as rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, and foxes; birds, such as towhees, thrashers, cardinals, sparrows, and bobwhite quail; reptiles and amphibians, such as fence lizards, box turtles, and gray treefrogs, and a host of insects and other invertebrates. Building a brush pile requires no special tools and only a little initial planning. Two to four brush piles per acre are optimal, but even a single pile will prove beneficial to wildlife. Over time, a brush pile will settle, and new material can be added. After several years, a brush pile will settle and rot to a point that it no longer has much open space underneath. Building a new brush pile nearby will provide a home for any remaining animals. Don’t dismantle the old pile; it will continue to decompose, enrich the soil, and provide a home for invertebrates and microorganisms for many years.
5. Reduce Pesticide Use
When you have caterpillars, bugs, butterflies, and young birds exploring your backyard throughout the year, the last thing you want is for them to be harmed by pesticides. Killing all insects and bugs isn’t always necessary or effective, and it can also damage ecosystems and our own health. Mantises and dragonflies are just some of the hundreds of fascinating and beautiful bugs we are lucky to see around our homes. Many of these wonderful creatures are predators of mosquitoes, house flies, and cockroaches, yet people are using broad-spectrum pesticides which kill these beneficial bugs alongside the pests. By reducing pesticides and using all natural alternatives you allow populations of natural enemies to thrive. Fortunately, it’s easy to encourage these bugs: they go where their prey is. If you have a good range of insects in your yard, these helpful predators are probably also present.
Listed below are organizations that can give you tips on how to create your ideal wildlife friendly backyard:
- Texas Master Naturalist Program
- American Horticulture Society
- Bat Conservation International: Bat Houses
- National Audubon Society
- National Wildlife Federation
Learn more about conservation on our blog page.