How to attract wildlife?


Gardening for Birds, Butterflies, and Bees – by Editors at Birds and Blooms (Paperback)

Whether you’re installing a new garden bed or trying to attract orioles for the first time, it helps to start with the right information. And here it is! In this book, experts and readers from North America’s #1 Bird and Garden Magazine, Birds & Blooms, give their tried-and-true advice.

Attracting birds and butterflies has never been simpler–plus you’ll get the latest tips and advice for supporting the dwindling bee population, which experts say is essential for the future of gardening. Inside this book, you’ll find irresistible plants for birds, butterflies, and bees, creative garden designs for year-round beauty, and our top plant lists to take the guesswork out of gardening. Birds, butterflies and bees rely on plants, trees and shrubs to survive and thrive. That’s why doing your part for the environment by establishing critter-friendly areas in your own backyard is so crucial. This book, brought to you by the editors of Birds & Blooms magazine, can serve as your guide to attracting new visitors to your landscape. Birds & Blooms has helped lead the trend we like to call “gardening with a purpose” for over 20 years. We’ve always recognized the importance of going beyond just the beauty of a garden, and purposefully choosing flowers, trees and shrubs specifically for their environmental benefits.
Birds count on healthy trees and plants as natural food sources and nesting sites. Butterflies need nectar-rich blooms for nourishment. Very specific host plants are key to caterpillar survival. And as bee populations decline, flowers that provide nectar and pollen are more essential than ever. Each of these creatures requires natural shelter as well, which trees and shrubs readily provide.
All of the 250+ featured plants are not only gorgeous and colorful, but they offer a lot of environmental benefits, too. We made sure to include amazing photos of every plant we’re recommending, so you’ll be able to see what each plant looks like and immediately know if it’s a good fit for your garden.
We even went a step further and put together some handy symbols to help you achieve the wildlife-friendly backyard of your dreams. Look for the symbols next to each plant profile to discover what the plant will attract. (Some plants are a triple whammy and attract birds, butterflies and bees!) For extra guidance, check the light-requirement symbols. You’ll be able to quickly see if a plant should be grown in shade, part-shade or full sun–vital info you need to know to create a great habitat.
Throughout this book, we’ve highlighted about 70 bird species and 35 butterfly species you might see in your space. Have fun identifying all of the birds, butterflies and bees in your own backyard!

Looking to spruce up your yard this spring? Try growing more native plants – plants that naturally occur in the area where you live. Gardening with native plants has many benefits: They’re beautiful, they’re already adapted to your precipitation and soil conditions, and they don’t need artificial fertilizers or pesticides. Of course the biggest benefit might be that native plants are great for birds and other wildlife.

Native plants provide nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. They provide nourishing seeds and irresistible fruits for your feathered neighbors, and they offer places to nest and shelter from harm. They’re also a critical part of the food chain—native insects evolved to feed on native plants, and by and large, backyard birds raise their young on insects, explains Douglas Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home. Take the Carolina Chickadee: A single clutch of four to six chicks will gobble up more than 9,000 caterpillars in the 16 days between when they hatch and when they leave the nest. So thriving insects mean thriving birds.

The key is to pick the right plants for your area. Here are 10 great plants to get you thinking about the possibilities—but remember, there are thousands of native plants out there. Search Audubon’s native plants database to create a list of plants native to your area and get connected to local native plant resources. You’ll also find even more resources listed further down the page.

Native Flowering Plants:

Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.)

Coneflowers are a tried-and-true garden staple, and wildlife are drawn to them, too.

Birds that love them: These beautiful blooms attract butterflies and other pollinators during the summer and provide seeds for goldfinches and other birds in the fall.

Where they’re native: Some of these species, like Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida, are great native plants to grow in the plains states. Coneflowers grow well most places, so check for the species native to your region.

Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)

Sunflowers may signify loyalty and longevity for people, but they mean food for many birds.

Birds that love them: Birds often use the sunflower seeds to fuel their long migrations.

Where they’re native: Helianthus ciliaris in the Southwest and central United States and Helianthus angustifolius in the eastern United States produce seeds in bulk.

Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)

Milkweed is best known for hosting monarch butterfly caterpillars, but they attract loads of insects that are great for birds, too. Bonus: the flowers are gorgeous.

Birds that love them: Some birds, like the American Goldfinch, use the fiber from the milkweed to spin nests for its chicks. Goldfinches, and other birds, also use the downy part of the seed to line their nests.

Where they’re native: It’s likely one or more species of milkweed is native to your area—try butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in hot dry areas, while swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is great in wet areas or gardens.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

The cardinal flower’s bright red petals resemble the flowing robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, after which it was named.

Birds that love them: While few insects can navigate the long tubular flowers, hummingbirds feast on the cardinal flower’s nectar with their elongated beaks.

Where they’re native: This moisture-loving plant is native across large portions of the country, including the East, Midwest, and Southwest.

Native Vines:

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

One of the top most well-behaved vines to plant in your garden, the multitudes of red tubular flowers are magnets for hummingbirds.

Birds that love them: This vine’s nectar attracts hummingbirds while many birds like Purple Finches and Hermit Thrushes eat their fruit. During migration, Baltimore Orioles get to the nectar by eating the flowers.

Where they’re native: Trumpet honeysuckle grows natively in the northeast, southeast, and midwest portions of the United States. The sweetly scented Japanese honeysuckle is actually an exotic invasive—but if you swap it with native trumpet honeysuckle, you’ll attract plenty of birds.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinqefolia)

The Virginia creeper, also known as woodvine, may be best known for its similarity to poison ivy, but its leaves are harmless to your skin. While people may intentionally avoid it, many birds rely on its fruit during the winter.

Birds that love them: It’s a key food source for fruit-eating birds, such as mockingbirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays.

Where they’re native: Parthenocissus vitacea, a related species known as thicket creeper, is native to the American West while Parthenocissus quinqefolia can be found in the Great Plains and eastern United States.

Native Shrubs:

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Showy flowers and fruit make buttonbush a popular choice in native gardens and along pond shores.

Birds that love them: In addition to beautifying a pond, they also provide seeds for ducks and other waterfowl. Their magnificent flowers also attract butterflies—and other pollinators.

Where they’re native: The buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, is native to the wetlands of California and the eastern half of the United States.

Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)

Elderberry is a versatile plant that has been used to make dye and medicine by people across the United States, as well as being a showy shrub for the landscape.

Birds that love them: Its bright dark blue fruits (which we use for jam) provide food for many birds within its range, including the Brown Thrasher and Red-eyed Vireo, and dozens of other birds.

Where they’re native: Sambucus canadensis is native to most of the eastern United States, while red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is found in most states except for those south of Nebraska and those along the Gulf of Mexico.

Native Trees:

Oak (Quercus spp.)

From southern live oaks to California black oaks, these large beautiful trees are a favorite for many people across the country—not to mention the great summer shade they provide. These trees are also an integral part of the food chain, so planting just one really helps your yard’s diversity.

Birds that love them: Similarly, many species of birds use the cavities and crooks of these trees for nesting and shelter. Birds are also drawn to the abundance of insects and acorns that are found on oaks—to learn more, check out Doug Tallamy’s work.

Where they’re native: If you want to plant an oak, be sure to plant one native to your area, such as the shumard oak in the Southeast or the Oregon white oak in the Pacific Northwest.

Dogwoods (Cornus spp.)

Nothing says spring quite like a dogwood full of newly-bloomed flowers.

Birds that love them: Cardinals, titmice, and bluebirds all dine on the fleshy fruit of dogwood trees.

Where they’re native: If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can grow native Cornus nuttallii and for those in the eastern United States, choose either the Cornus alternifolia or the Cornus florida.

By incorporating native plants into your landscape, you’re creating a sanctuary that benefits wildlife.

The 10 plants listed are a great starting point—they’re easy to grow, they’re great for birds, and most can be found at nurseries. To find species that are native to right where you live, search Audubon’s native plants database. You can create a list of plants native to your area and get connected to local native plant resources. Explore the Plants for Birds pages to learn more.

Other Online Resources

How to Buy Native Plants
Bringing Nature Home


Bringing Nature Home…Doug Tallamy
The Living Landscape….Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke
The American Woodland Garden….Rick Darke
Gardening and Propagating Wildflowers, Growing and Propagating Native Trees and Shrubs….William Cullina

Additional reporting by Shannon Palus and Tessa Stuart.

Birds and butterflies are a little like flowers on the wing. Though fleeting, their presence brings a beauty to your garden that nothing else can match. Cultivate a spot that invites them in to stay. It won’t be the tidiest garden on the block, but one that has areas wet and dry, looks a little wild and has some weeds and flowers gone to seed. It will be a home for insects and earthworms, too (no harmful pesticides here), with something blooming from spring through fall. This welcoming place will keep birds and butterflies close till the change of seasons prompts most to move on.
How to attract birds to your garden
For me, one of my garden’s most amusing attractions is a birdbath not far from the front porch. Birds visit almost every day, especially morning and evening, and especially during migration. Some of the most colourful small birds in my part of Ontario — such as bluebirds, orioles and goldfinches — partake regularly of this “spa.”
Here are a few rules of birdbath location and care.
1. Place it where birds can spot possible predators, far enough from the house so birds will come to it and close enough so you can see them when they do.
2. Provide a perch nearby, such as a shrub, fence or even a branched stick.
3. Keep the basin filled with fresh water. In dry weather you’ll need to fill it daily.
4. Keep it clean. Scrub it every few days.
Birdhouses and nesting sites may lure birds to stay all summer. Buy birdhouses or make your own. The size of the entrance hole determines what species will take up residence (a maximum size of 1-1/2 inches/3.8 centimetres accommodates most songbirds but keeps out nest-and-hatchling thieves such as starlings). Install birdhouses securely in a peaceful place. Some birds don’t use them but make nests on building ledges, branches or in the knotholes of trees and fence posts.
How to feed birds in your garden
If you feed birds all winter, some, such as jays and chickadees, will stay throughout the year. For hummingbirds you can hang a feeder in the summer, but they will also visit many cultivated and wild flowers, especially those that are red and funnel-shaped. Other birds will come for insects, fruit and seeds.
Favoured by the insect eaters are airborne pests, such as mosquitoes and blackflies, and plant pests, including weevils and caterpillars. Trees and shrubs in declining health provide insects for woodpeckers and knotholes for nests, while an unraked spot under a large tree lets birds enjoy bugs hidden in the leaf litter. Elderberries, strawberries, saskatoons and cherries may be devoured by birds before you get your chance. Seedheads and rose hips left to ripen on their stalks are an attraction through winter. And shrubs and trees that hold seeds and fruit into fall — such as crab apple, honeysuckle, pin cherry, chokeberry and dogwood — will tempt migrating birds on their way south.
For the birds: Plant sources for food, nest sites or shelter

Plant/shrub/tree Bird
balsam fir grosbeak, purple finch
bee balm (Monarda didyma) hummingbird
beardtongue (Penstemon) hummingbird
birch pine siskin, American goldfinch
butternut chickadee, nuthatch
cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) hummingbird
cedar, red robin, cedar waxwing, bluebird
chokecherry, common catbird, brown thrasher, thrush
columbine (Aquilegia) hummingbird
coral bells, red-flowered (Heuchera sanguinea) hummingbird
crab apple robin, cedar waxwing, grosbeak
dogwood, flowering sapsucker, thrush
fuchsia hummingbird
hemlock, eastern pine siskin, American goldfinch, grosbeak
hickory nuthatch, towhee
honeysuckle (Lonicera) hummingbird, catbird, robin
hosta hummingbird
maple grosbeak, purple finch
mountain ash, American robin, brown thrasher, cedar waxwing
petunia hummingbird
pine, white chickadee, robin
rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) hummingbird
salvia hummingbird
scarlet runner (Kennedia prostrata) hummingbird
spruce pine siskin, nuthatch, crossbill

Page 1 of 2 — Discover how you can attract beautiful butterflies to your garden on page 2
How to attract butterflies to you garden
Attracting both birds and butterflies presents a paradox: some of the former will dine happily on some of the latter, both adult and larvae. If your garden attracts butterflies, it will also attract birds. Like birds, butterflies have certain habitat preferences. Butterflies cannot fly in wind or rain; they prefer sunny and windless or gently breezy weather. A woodpile or brush pile gives them a place to hide and rest. Overwintering species, such as mourning cloaks, may hibernate in these shelters while other species fly south for the winter. Handmade butterfly houses are an interesting addition to the garden but are extremely unlikely to be used.
How to feed butterflies in your garden
Not all butterflies sip flower nectar — some prefer sap or rotten fruit — but those that do are particular. Weeds rate high in all provinces: vetches attract silvery blues, nettles bring in tortoiseshells and red admirals, and milkweeds attract monarchs. The subtle flowers of grasses attract many northern butterflies. Some plants attract several species. Lantana, a tender perennial, is a food source considered “second only to buddleia” by Rick Mikula, author of Garden Butterflies of North America (Willow Creek, 1997). Herbs in bloom are butterfly candy. Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii), an easy perennial, is my favourite.
While all butterflies are pretty, not all are welcome. A good field guide for both their creeping-caterpillar and flying phases will help you sort out the harmful and harmless.
If you design your garden as a friendly place for these ephemeral creatures, endangered by dwindling habitats worldwide, you play your own small part in ensuring their survival. Treat the small universe of the garden kindly and you will be delighted with flowers that fly.
For the butterflies: Plant sources for food

Plant/shrub/tree Butterfly Province
aster northern pearl crescent all
butterfly bush (Buddleia) tiger swallowtail
anise swallowtail
butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) monarch all
coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) fritillary all
hollyhock (Alcea rosea) painted lady all
lantana (Lantana camara) anise swallowtail
spicebush swallowtail
nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) spring azure all
New England aster (A. novae-angliae) pearly crescentspot
checkered skipper
violet (Viola species) fritillary all
willow mourning cloak all

Page 2 of 2

1. Put Up Nesting Boxes

Nesting boxes will encourage birds to breed in your garden. Different types of birds favour different types of boxes (see the further information links). Put up bird boxes where they are sheltered from the elements and install before spring so that you do not disrupt the breeding season.

2. Plant a Tree

Native trees will help attract birds and insects. Go for species like crab apple, conifers, silver birch, yew, alder, or if you have space for a large tree, try elm, beech or ash. Trees provide a nesting place for birds and squirrels, while if you want to attract bats, willow will give you the best chance. If you have space to plant a few trees near each other this will create more of a woodland habitat drawing a wider range of wildlife.

3. Grow a Hedge

Hedges provide additional nesting areas for birds and small animals. They also help to shelter the garden. Suitable hedge plants include blackthorn, buckthorn, cherry plum, elder, hawthorn, hazel and privet. Climbers and creepers provide further foliage to boost the insect population and draw birds. Clematis, dog rose and honeysuckle are traditional favourites.

4. Grow Wildflowers

Butterflies and bees are drawn to areas of wildflowers. Buddlea is a particular favourite of butterflies, and native species with an open structured flower are good for attracting bees.

Plants that are over-bred so that they have two flowers per stem will not provide much nectar or pollen so are best avoided. Cornflowers, floxgloves, bluebells, crocus and globe thistle are just a tiny selection of the plants you could choose to encourage wildlife.

5. Cultivate a Wilderness Area

Leave an area of wild lawn to mimic a meadow – enticing shrews, voles and other mammals that feed on grass or insects. A pile of dead wood will encourage beetles and grubs which will in turn draw larger foragers.

6. Hang a Bird Feeder

Hang a bird feeder filled with unsalted peanuts from a branch or get one which attaches to a window with a suction pad for a close-up view. You can get squirrel-proof bird feeders to ensure the squirrels don’t steal all the food, but hang an ordinary feeder alongside so that they don’t go hungry either. Fat balls and seed mixes are ideal for attracting a range of bird species. Offerings of bacon rind and grated cheese will also make you popular with your avian neighbours.

7. Erect a Bird Table and Bath

A bird table provides a useful feeding perch away from predators and a bird bath provides a water source for drinking and washing. Make sure your bird bath doesn’t freeze over in winter by pouring boiling water over it. If you have a cat, put a bell on its collar to prevent it from bringing home your carefully nurtured wildlife as an unwanted offering.

8. Attract Mammals

You can buy special feed for hedgehogs from garden suppliers, while badgers will eat unsalted nuts and seeds, fruit and root vegetables. Make sure you leave out water as well. Steer clear of bread and milk which cause digestive problems for animals. Offer a hedgehogs a safe place to hibernate in the winter by buying a hedgehog house.

9. Create a Water Feature or Pond

If you have space for a pond this will diversify your garden ecosystem, or if not, even a small water feature will help to attract different creatures. A pond allows you to keep fish and frogs as well as attracting beautiful insects like dragonflies. Use plants like water lilies and broad leaf pond weed to develop your underwater habitat.

10. Observe and Photograph

You can keep an eye on what is going on in your nesting boxes using purpose-built surveillance cameras.

More Information on Wildlife Gardening

Find out more on what kind of plants attract wildlife at Natural England, which has a range of free guides to download.


Attracting Small Mammals

The best wildlife gardens provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife including small mammals. Small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, opossums, and foxes play an important role in the garden ecosystem.

Ways to Attract Small Mammals

  • Create brush shelters out of logs and branches to create a shelter for a variety of small mammals and other species.
  • Leave dead trees, also called snags, in place. Snags provide small mammals and other animal species with a cover, a place to raise young, as well as attract food sources such as insects, fungi, and lichens.
  • Provide a water source for small mammals to drink and clean themselves. A small water dish, bird bath, or small pond will all benefit small mammals.

Benefits of Small Mammals in your Habitat Garden

  • The presence of small mammal is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem
  • A balanced and healthy ecosystem keeps insect populations under control.
  • Small mammals provide food for larger predators such as hawks, owls, and foxes
    • If predators are showing up in your garden it means you have a successful habitat garden!
    • Don’t think of predators as bad. Predation is natural, predators need to eat and raise their young too!
    • Predators also keep populations of smaller animals balanced.
  • Small mammals are fun to watch and have around!

Nuisance Wildlife
Some small mammals can become a nuisance in the garden. It’s okay to try to deter certain kinds of wildlife. Keep in mind, however, that the majority of wildlife conflicts can be solved with simple changes on our part, such as:

  • Never feed mammals
  • Store trash and pet food outdoors
  • Don’t put trash out until morning
  • Add predator guards to bird boxes and feeders
  • Be sure to critter-proof your house (seal attics, basements and crawlspaces, put screens in windows, etc.)

Does your garden have all the elements to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat®? Certify today!


Attracting wildlife onto your land makes it much more interesting. Here are some tips to assess the wildlife population on your property and some tips on how to attract more species.

Whether you are a hunter, photographer, conservationist or simply enjoy wildlife, most would agree that the addition of wildlife to your land is more enjoyable. If you are making or have recently made the transition to rural life, there are some easy ways to assess the wildlife population on your land. There are also some ways to increase the population and number of species with a few simple steps. These steps do not have to be costly and may be implemented at your own pace.

How do I Attract more Wildlife to my Land?

It is very gratifying to see an increase in a desirable species and to see an influx of new species onto your new property. It is not as difficult as you may think and only requires attention to details.

Wildlife Requirements

When we consider how we might get a handle on the current wildlife population on a property, how to increase that population, or attract new species, we must first become knowledgeable about the needs of each of those species.

One primary consideration is to question, “What are the basic needs of most wildlife species?”

The easy answer is three primary needs that are universal to all species. They are:

  • Water – Almost all animals require water. Most require it in the form of standing water or streams that allow them to drink freely as needed. Only a few species get enough water from the food that they consume.
  • Food – In order to assess the population, you will need to familiarize yourself with the preferred foods the target animal consumes. If you wish to increase that population, you will need to be sure to provide more of those desirable foods.
  • Shelter – This may be thickets, brush piles, nesting boxes or any number of different environmental conditions. You will find that you can alter the conditions to attract or manipulate the population in a number of ways.

Evidence of Existing Animal Populations

There are many ways to discover the types of species that are on a property in addition to visual sightings. With regard to visual sightings, the use of optics will be a great aid in evaluating the species as well as the physical condition of the animals present. Good binoculars, spotting scopes and trail cameras all have their advantages.

Many consider trail cameras as tools for hunters only. This is a mistake, as they allow landowners to capture stunning photos of wildlife that might not be available in any other manner. An advantage to being present at a location 24/7 is that nocturnal activities may be captured that would otherwise not be noted. Animals such as deer are crepuscular, meaning that they are more active during periods of low light and even in full darkness.

As you seek evidence of wildlife on your property, here are a few indicators that will tip you off to their presence:

  • Trails – Animals, like humans, will follow the path of least resistance on the landscape. The frequenting of the same path over a period of time will result in visible trails. I have found that even in forest areas where falling leaves cover trails, as I walk along convenient passages, it is easy to feel the harder packed areas underfoot where deer and other animals have compacted the soil by their frequent use, creating a trail.

  • Browse lines – Often, it is easy to see where favored plants have been browsed by deer. The tender tips have been nipped off and consumed. At a lower level, rabbits may do the same thing.
  • Cuttings of nuts and pine cones – These are indicators of squirrels in the area. They will often sit on a stump, log or large stone and gnaw open a pine cone to get the seed or a hickory nut to get the sweet meat inside.
  • Debarked twigs and limbs along a stream or in a pond will indicate that beaver are working the area. They gnaw the bark and cambium from trees and leave some of the cuttings along the bank. They will also create piles of mud and deposit castor from glands near the base of their tail as territorial markers. Some of the limbs will be taken to re-enforce their dams and to build their lodges. Listen for the slap of their tails on the water as another sign of their presence.
  • Tracks – Especially near streams, in soft ground, plowed fields and any place where the soil is soft, you can find tracks that will help you to identify the presence and perhaps the frequency and number of animals in the area.
  • Scat- Many mammals will deposit scat or feces in a highly visible area as a means of marking their territory. Think of it as a bulletin board or newspaper announcing to other animals, “I am here and this is my stomping ground. Keep your distance or answer to me.”

An especially good time to scout a new area for wildlife such as deer and other large mammals is after the hunting season and before the new spring growth emerges. Trails will be most visible and signs such as scrapes and rubs on trees by deer will be obvious.

Attracting Birds

One of the areas of most importance to those interested in wildlife is how to attract more and new species to their property. This varies with regard to species and must be broken down into several categories.

The population of birds may be increased or new species attracted by the use of several methods. One of the most important is the offering of desired food types in different types of feeders. One of the most universal foods is black oil sunflower seeds. This can be placed in tube feeders or platform feeders and will attract a wide variety of birds.

Suet should be placed in one or more suet feeders to attract woodpeckers, mockingbirds, bluebirds and other species that find it desirable.

In certain times of the year, mesh socks or other types of thistle feeders will attract goldfinches in abundance as well as some of the other small species.

Clean water should be made available near the feeders and should be refreshed frequently. Water will attract almost as many birds as feed. Moving water is even better. If you can hang a bucket with a pinhole in it on a limb, allowing it to drip into a birdbath, it will become a magnet to the local bird population.

Hummingbird feeders are a joy to watch and the best food is one part sugar and four parts water. This is more attractive than most commercial food and cheaper and easier to feed. (You can boil the mixture to dissolve the sugar and then cool before putting it in your feeder). Feeders should be cleaned and food replaced weekly, or especially in very hot weather to keep birds healthy and keep them coming.

Food in the form of trees that bear fruit are helpful. Serviceberry bushes are great attractors, favored by many species. If you have blueberries, strawberries or other fruit for human consumption, the downside is that they may need to be covered with netting to keep the birds out.

Bird boxes scattered around the property will attract and hold many species. Eastern bluebird populations had plummeted in the past, but the widespread use of special bluebird boxes brought them back in good numbers. If you are interested in bird boxes, be sure to research the size, shape and dimensions of the openings to target the desired species.

Birdwatching lends itself to photography and you should keep a camera and good optics nearby so that you can capture that special moment. In addition, it is enjoyable to keep a “life list” of all the bird species that you have observed. Over a period of time, you will be amazed at how many species have frequented your feeders and boxes. Some species will only appear for a short time as they stop over on their migrations to other areas. We found this to be true of rose breasted grosbeaks in our upstate South Carolina area. They only appear for a week or two in the spring and fall.

For more information on drawing birds to your land, read my article, How to Attract Wild Birds to Your Property.

Attracting Deer

Deer populations have some unique requirements and there are several ways to attract more to an area.

  1. If the property is large enough to permit, deer food plots can be planted with desirable foods to attract populations. Various clover, brassicas and other foodstuff can be planted to maintain good availability during cold months and various mineral licks may be placed to provide good bone and antler growth.
  2. Deer require bedding areas that are either remote or undisturbed. These areas should be off-limits to human activity most of the year. If such areas do not exist, they can be encouraged by allowing a part of the property to become brushy and undisturbed. This can be supplemented by the practice of hinge cutting of small trees, especially species that deer like to browse. Hinge cutting is the practice of cutting part-way through a small tree and pushing it over. The uncut portion will allow the tree to stay alive, creating horizontal growth that the deer can reach for food and also creating more cover for a bedding area. Hinge cutting can also be used to funnel deer in a desired travel path or entry point into food plots.
  3. Good timber management will result in better wildlife habitat. More open forest is good for turkey and quail populations. Controlled burns of forest land on a three year cycle is a practice that is recommended to keep underbrush from shading out desirable weeds, forbs and other growth that attracts insects that young turkeys and quail need to provide necessary protein for proper development. Leaving a few dead, standing snags where they do not represent a hazard to humans is a good practice. It provides an area for woodpeckers to create holes in trees that provide homes for them and the abandoned holes are often used by other species.

Forgotten Species for Consideration

Many species are not often considered when making plans for a property. These species can add an untold amount of interest and sometimes are much more important to the ecosystem than we realize. Here are a few to think about as you embark on an assessment of what you want your property to look like.

  • Fish, frog and aquatic insects – The addition of a pond, either large scale for recreational fishing or a garden pond can provide much interest in the form of recreation or contemplation. Ponds of both sizes can attract frogs and aquatic insects that are attractive and a great addition to the property. In addition, the larger pond fish can add another dimension to the food that your property can provide. Fresh fish from your own pond is a great addition to the diet.
  • Bees – We have all heard about the problems with honeybees. It is amazing how important bees are for pollination. If you are interested, you can incorporate beehives into your master plan. If not, consider plant species for a pollinator garden that will attract bees to your property. This will help with pollination of plants in your garden and increase your yield considerably.

As you embark on this wonderful adventure of property ownership, it would be wise to obtain a library of field guides about animals and birds and literature about conservation. Online searches about any questions you might have would also be helpful. You might also consider networking with conservation groups that have a common interest. The exchange of ideas is always profitable for all involved.

November 21, 2017 December 16, 2019 – By Redfin Guest Blogger Updated on December 16th, 2019 Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on linkedin Share on pinterest

Do you want to draw flocks of birds, butterflies, and other scurrying wildlife to your backyard? Even city dwellers can turn their yards into a wildlife refuge by offering the four things all animals search for — food, water, shelter and room to raise their young. Here are some dos and don’ts for creating a safe, beautiful and educational backyard wildlife sanctuary.

Using food to attract wildlife to your backyard

Animals are always attracted to food, especially a consistent supply of their favorite noshes. Providing a sustainable habitat for wildlife begins with the kind of food options you provide. Here are some dos and don’ts on using food to make your yard a safe place for wildlife.


Use native plants in your garden, either as landscaping or throughout your yard. Native plants can thrive in your climate’s specific growing conditions, and are are often good sources of natural food for your local wildlife populations.

  • Try to grow a variety of plants that bloom during different seasons so wildlife can take advantage of food year round. Even consider plants that offer a variety of purposes — more than just physical nourishment — so that the wildlife can rely on your yard for sustenance in multiple ways.
  • Sow plants that provide essentials for the wildlife diet, such as seeds, nuts, greens, pollen, fruits and berries.
  • Use specific plants to attract insects that a variety of wild creatures like in their diet. Both plants and feeders can attract these alternate natural food sources.
  • Think about what kinds of animals you want to attract (and who you’d rather not have visiting) and provide those types of food sources. For example, if you want your backyard to draw:
    • Squirrels: These furry scampers love berries and nuts. You can also hang corncobs or scatter corn seed on the ground beneath trees.
    • Rabbits: These cute little hoppers enjoy dining on clover, lettuce and carrots. You can plant a garden just to attract rabbits, or simply use their favorite green foliage in your flowerbeds or along fence lines.
    • Deer: These elegant animals enjoy snacking on wax myrtle, blackberry and spicebush.
    • Chipmunks: This smaller cousin to the squirrel also enjoys berries and nuts, but they will also eat insects, worms and bird eggs.
    • Butterflies and Bees: Many species of these beautiful insects are in decline, so planting native plants with red, yellow, orange, pink and purple colors will help them thrive.
    • Birds: Different kinds of birds enjoy different kinds of plants, but seeds and nuts from native plants provide a solid staple for those in your area.


  • Leave out kitchen scraps, boldly-pungent scents or meats that might attract the kind of wildlife you may want to avoid, like rats and skunks.
  • Use pesticides and other chemicals in your yard that might hurt, injure or deter animals or contaminate the insects they eat.
  • Feed animals any seeds that contain capsaicin or other hot or peppery flavors.
  • Leave your trash uncovered or bring out your bins the night before trash pick-up, especially if you’re concerned about certain species that might endanger your household animals. Raccoons, skunks and bears are typically harmless, but can cause quite a calamity if they come face-to-face with your dog or cat.
  • Be too concerned if your backyard is fenced in. While this may prevent deer and larger animals from coming in, smaller animals and birds will still have access. If you want deer to visit, try planting the foliage they enjoy snacking on along your fence line.

Give critters a place to call home

All animals — even humans — need shelter. Building dense, natural and secure shelters can appeal to all kinds of wildlife. Remember, the safer the animals feel, the more likely they’ll use your shelter, and maybe even stick around for a while. Here are some dos and don’ts for creating shelters that will sustain wildlife.


  • Plant evergreen trees and shrubs to offer natural shelter for wildlife year-round.
  • Create brush piles with a solid foundation and a well-insulated brush cover.
  • Think about what kinds of shelter the animals you want to visit (and stay) will need in order to avoid predators and stay dry and warm during storms and harsh conditions.


  • Seal off or move around areas that already may be used for shelter without completely examining the area for signs of life.
  • Create a shelter with flaws that could leave the animals at risk for capture by a predator.
  • Let your domestic animals invade these spaces. Keep your cats indoors, and train your dogs to stay away from the shelters.

Provide the most essential need: water

All animals need clean water sources for drinking, and many also are drawn to sources for bathing. You don’t need a large pond to attract and sustain wildlife, so long as you are strategic about the water supply you offer and maintain. Here are several dos and don’ts for providing water for animals in your backyard.


  • Use birdbaths at various widths, depths and heights, as they appeal to birds, squirrels, deer and other animals.
  • Place your water near shelter, nests and food sources to create an inviting habitat that the various wildlife creatures you want to see will spend more time in.
  • Create areas to collect natural rain water like ponds.
  • Use moving water when you can — wildlife will be drawn to the sounds of water sources. Install fountains or add pumps to still water sources.
  • Put light foliage in ponds to help smaller animals get in and out.


  • Let water get too stagnant or dirty, as it can grow harmful bacteria that deters animals.
  • Put salt licks, hummingbird feeders or other flavored animal attractors near water sources to keep it fresh.
  • Allow animals to drink out of your swimming pool, hot tub or other recreational water sources that may have chemicals in them.
  • Let too many hot summer days go by without refilling your water sources.

Attract wildlife families

One of the most amazing wonders of wildlife watching is seeing a baby bird fly or a tiny squirrel emerge for the first time. You’ll know your wildlife habitat is at its peak when your critters start having offspring of their own. That means you’ve created a safe, secure home with plenty of food and water. Here are a few additional dos and don’ts when it comes to encouraging wildlife to start families in your backyard habitat.


  • Maintain the food and water sources on a regular basis so wildlife animals feel secure in your habitat.
  • Think about the unique needs of the kinds of wild animals you want raising families in your backyard. For instance:
    • Squirrels: These little creatures don’t like being out in the open. They’ll want to raise their families in trees with easily scalable bark that also provide food.
    • Rabbits: These small animals feel safest raising their young in brush piles and scampering in tall, weedy grasses. Let an area of your yard grow tall and wild to encourage breeding.
    • Deer: These skittish mammals are unlikely to live full-time in your backyard, but if your yard is adjacent to a forest or woods and your habitat is inviting, they’ll likely bring their young into your yard to forage.
    • Chipmunks: These woodland creatures like to stay low and will find brush piles and thick vegetation the ideal environment for storing food during the winter and raising families in the spring.
    • Birds: These airborne animals will want to build nests on branches and in trees, but also find safe and warm birdhouses and other structures appealing.


  • Hang homemade shelters or feeders too close to windows where birds and small mammals feel unsafe.
  • Plant high grass or food foliage too close to walkways, as animals won’t have babies or raise their young if they feel uncertain about the safety of food sources.
  • Get too upset if animals eat the eggs or young of other animals. Creating a backyard habitat is about creating a natural environment — the circle of life will happen.

Creating a wildlife habitat in your backyard will not only help the environment, it will also provide educational benefits to your whole family. Both children and adults are often in awe of nature; you can teach young and old alike about the importance of conservation, safety and the interconnectedness of life. Plus, if your children and teens are part of the planning and implementation of your backyard wilderness, they learn math, science, biology, time management and responsibility. Inviting creatures into your backyard isn’t just fun, it’s a truly mutually beneficial relationship for animals and humans alike.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wildlife Habitat

Make a home for birds, butterflies, and nature’s other creatures.

In Your Backyard

Habitat is a combination of food, water, shelter, and space arranged to meet the needs of wildlife. Even a small yard can be landscaped to attract birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small animals. Trees, shrubs, and other plants provide shelter and food for wildlife.

The plants you use for food and cover will help determine the wildlife species attracted to your backyard. Nesting boxes, feeders, and watering sites can be added to improve the habitat.

Planning Your Wildlife Habitat

Planning is necessary for attractive and productive wildlife habitat. You have both a horizontal area to work with — the size of your lot — as well as a vertical area that stretches from your soil to the treetops. The vertical area is composed of the canopy formed by the tallest tree branches; understory vegetation consisting of smaller trees, shrubs, and vines; the floor which is often dominated by low-growing groundcovers; and the basement where a variety of organisms exist in the soil. Different wildlife species live in each of these zones, so numerous habitats can be provided on a small piece of land.

Trees and shrubs are the backbone of any landscaping design and are important for wildlife shelter. Many tree and shrub species are excellent sources of food for wildlife. Proper selection of plant material can meet both the aesthetic needs of the homeowner and the food and shelter needs of wildlife. Remember that you are part of the habitat!

Steps to Create Habitat for Wildlife

  1. Identify all existing plants, if any. Note:
    • Condition of the plants and their locations.
    • How much shade the trees and shrubs provide.
    • Are trees evergreen or do they drop their leaves in the fall?
    • Do they provide valuable food sources?
  2. Make a sketch of your yard noting all existing plants, buildings, utilities, and pathways. You may even consider removing some plants. In some cases, trees have been planted too close to buildings or have grown much larger than the previous owner envisioned. Some species may be of little wildlife value and may not be particularly attractive. Once you have identified existing plants you want to save, start exploring options for plants that will work well with these species. The existing plants around your yard may be adequate to attract some wildlife, but a few changes can effectively enhance the existing habitat. Diversity in the landscape is necessary. Some plants provide food but very little cover; others provide cover but little food.
  3. Add trees, shrubs, flowers, and groundcovers to your plan. Not all the planting needs to be done at once. If money or time is limited, consider it a work in progress.
  4. Plant a variety of trees first. Select evergreen species for year-round cover and shelter. Select fruit or nut-bearing plants for a food source. Native species are well suited for providing wildlife habitat because they are adapted to the local soil, climate, and wildlife. Additional considerations for choosing and placement include:
    • Eventual size. Whether they are evergreen or deciduous (trees that drop their leaves). Deciduous trees planted on the south side of a house will provide summer shade, but will not completely block winter sun.
    • Neighboring properties.
    • Flowering and fruiting habit. Select plants that flower and bear fruit at different times of the year. Some shrubs that produce berries can provide food throughout the year. Trees with nuts and fruit can also provide seasonal foods. (See the tip sheet on tree planting for suggested species.)
  5. Fill in with smaller shade-tolerant understory trees and shrubs. Adding these to an existing landscape will enhance the vertical structure that is common in natural landscapes. Many smaller trees and shrubs are colorful in the spring when they flower, and provide berries for fall and winter feed.
  6. Flowering annuals (plants that live one growing season) and perennials (plants that live for more than a year) add color to the yard and can be added at any stage to attract birds and butterflies. If your yard is large, consider using part of it for tall native grasses that provide beauty, as well as a natural source of food and shelter. A native wildflower garden provides the same function. Even on a small lot, native wildflowers, as well as some common garden species, can provide attractive habitat for a variety of birds and butterflies. Avoid straight lines and perfect symmetry. Natural habitat has curves and clumps of vegetation. Wildlife is not particularly attracted to a well-manicured lawn. Wildlife is more likely to come out into the open for viewing when the boundary of the yard is designed and maintained as a retreat for animals.

Landscaping for Birds

Food and cover are essential for the survival of all species. Loss of suitable nesting sites is a major factor in the decline of some bird species. In the wild, many species nest in cavities of dead trees. With the loss of hedgerows in some parts of the country and the removal of dead trees in towns, natural nesting sites are often limited. Also, some highly competitive, non-native species of birds have taken over some of the existing nesting sites once occupied by native birds.

Bird species are extremely variable in their habits. Some like deeply wooded areas; others prefer open fields and meadows. Many species are year-round residents, while others such as the cedar waxwing appear only for a few days a year during migration. Other species such as sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, robins, juncos, and chickadees are highly adaptable and found in many environments.

Many people are not aware of the value of dead, dying, and hollow trees, as well as logs on the ground, for birds and other wildlife. Dead trees provide homes to more than 400 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Fish, plants, and fungi also benefit from dead and dying trees. Consider leaving standing dead and dying trees in your yard unless they pose a human safety or property hazard, and use old logs and stumps in gardens and landscaping.

Plant Species for Birds

Below are some plant species to consider for wildlife habitat. Check with a local nursery on plants suitable for your area. Some of these plants, while suited for wildlife, may have characteristics such as shallow roots or weak limbs that make them inappropriate for small urban properties–or they may not be winter hardy in all locations. Birds eat any flower seed, depending on the kind of bird and seed.

Trees for Birds
Shrubs for Birds
Vines for Birds
  • American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
  • Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens and related spp.)
  • Strawberry (Fragaria spp.)
  • Trumpet creeper or vine (Campis radicans)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  • Wild grape (Vitis spp.)
Nectar Plants for Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Bees

Additional Food and Shelter for Birds

Few yards will be able to supply sufficient food or shelter for a variety of birds all year long. However, you can improve shelter and food supplies by building or purchasing feeders and houses, and by setting out certain foods.

All bird species have specific nesting requirements. Because of these requirements, your yard may not accommodate certain species. For instance, Eastern bluebirds prefer nesting sites that border open fields or lawns with a tree or fence post nearby to provide feeding perches. Chickadees prefer to nest in brushy wooded areas.

Before setting out nesting houses, find out which species are common in your area and can be encouraged to nest in your yard. Make or buy a bird house specifically designed for the bird you wish to attract. The size of the entrance hole is critical to prevent the eggs and young from being destroyed by larger birds — always check a list of appropriate hole sizes. Other considerations include box size, height above the ground, direction the entrance hole faces, and amount of sunlight. Boxes may need baffles or other protective devices to limit access by cats and other predators. A good reference publication is “Homes for Birds” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Migratory Bird Management. It is available at two internet sites: or

Many species of birds can be attracted by a variety of feed in different styles of feeders. There are many styles of bird feeders available, from window-mounted feeders to those that hang from branches and stands. Many birds will readily eat right off the ground. Bird feed comes in a variety of choices; however, sunflower seeds appeal to many birds, as well as small mammals. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees are especially attracted to suet. Citrus fruit, chopped apples and bananas, and raisins will be eaten by numerous species, including robins, titmouse, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and mockingbirds.

Feeders may also attract wildlife species you may not want to feed such as starlings, crows, and squirrels. Feeder type and placement and the type of food can help deter unwanted species.

Unlike many other species of birds, hummingbirds rely on nectar as their source of food. These tiny, migratory birds are commonly seen in the summer in northern states gathering nectar from colorful flowers. Hummingbirds are typically attracted to red and yellow tubular flowers, although they frequently visit others. Hummingbird feeders can be purchased and filled with a sugar-water solution, consisting of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Every 3 to 4 days, wash the feeder with soap and water, rinse thoroughly, and add new sugar water.

Food and Shelter for Butterflies

Colorful butterflies and moths add beauty and interest to your backyard. There are hundreds of different species of butterflies and moths in North America. Butterflies and moths are insects. They hatch into larvae (commonly referred to as caterpillars), eventually become pupae, and develop into colorful adults. How long the process takes depends on the species and the climate.

Butterflies and moths are amazingly particular in their food choices. The larval stage of the butterfly may require food quite different from that of the adult. Some larvae consume tremendous amounts of plant material, seemingly devouring plants overnight. A common example in the garden is the tomato hornworm which rapidly strips tomato plants of their leaves. An equally voracious, but beautiful, larvae is the Eastern black swallowtail which is found only on plants in the carrot family, including celery, carrot, dill, and parsley. A close relative is the Eastern tiger swallowtail that eats the foliage of wild cherry, birch, poplar, ash, and tulip trees.

Adult butterflies require food in liquid form such as plant-produced nectar. They get some of it from flowers and from juices of extra-ripe fruit. The types of flowering plants you grow will determine the kinds of butterflies you attract to your backyard. In addition to the plants listed for hummingbirds, butterfly bush is especially attractive. Find out what species are common in your area and use plants they like. Nectar feeders can be placed in the yard to attract butterflies. Do not use insecticides near plants for butterflies. Learn to recognize larval and egg forms. That large green and black caterpillar eating your dill may one day turn into the gorgeous butterfly you were hoping to attract!

Butterflies, like all insects, are most active when temperatures are warmer. While moths are commonly found at night, most butterflies are active on sunny, warm days. Butterflies will benefit from a basking site where they can warm up on cool mornings. Add a light-colored rock or concrete garden sculpture as a basking site. Butterflies also need a source of water. A shallow dish of water or a depression in a rock that retains water is all they need.

Attracting Bees

In the United States, there are nearly 5,000 different species of native bees. Most of them are solitary, friendly bees that nest in holes in the ground or burrows in twigs and dead tree limbs. These bees do not have hives to protect them, so they are not aggressive and rarely sting. Bumblebees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, digger bees, and others pollinate many different kinds of plants. They play a critical role in healthy wild plant communities and gardens. About 30 percent of our diet is the direct result of a pollinating visit by a bee to a flowering fruit tree or vegetable plant. Providing bee habitat in your yard can increase the quality and quantity of your fruits and vegetables.

Bees are extremely sensitive to many commonly applied insecticides. If you must use chemical insecticides in your garden, apply them in the evening when bees are less likely to be active.

Bees are attracted to most flowering plants, and are especially fond of blue and yellow flowers. Try planting your garden to have different species blooming in the spring, summer, and fall.

Bee Houses

A good use for untreated scrap lumber (at least 3 to 5 inches thick) is to drill holes (from 1/8-inch to 5/16-inch in diameter) about 90 percent of the way into the thick wooden block. Space the holes about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch apart. The 5/16-inch holes work best as homes for orchard bees which are excellent pollinators of fruit trees. Hang your bee blocks under the eaves of your house or garden shed, protected from direct sun and rain.

Attracting Bats to Your Yard

Bats are a beneficial and interesting mammal. Bats are the single most important controller of night-flying insects, including mosquitoes, moths, and beetles. For example, a single little brown bat can catch up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour. Watching bats fly around light posts catching bugs can be an interesting nighttime activity.

A bat house in your yard will help attract bats and provide them with much-needed roosting habitat. The house should be placed on a pole at least 15 feet high in a spot that receives sun most of the day. Tree trunks are usually too shady for bat boxes. Some bat species such as gray bats, red bats, and hoary bats will use shrubs and trees for roosting under loose bark or in cavities.

Many species of bats migrate in the fall and hibernate throughout the winter months in caves, mines, or buildings. If disturbed during hibernation, their metabolism is increased, depleting fat reserves and reducing their chances of survival.

As with all wildlife, bats should be watched, but not handled or chased. Generally, bats are shy of humans and will not attack or fly after a person. However, if caught or picked up from the ground, a bat may bite.

Attracting Reptiles and Amphibians

Toads, frogs, lizards, turtles, and snakes all have a place in the backyard. While many people may not want some of these animals in their yards, most species are harmless and often quite beneficial–feeding on destructive insects or rodents.

Shelter for reptiles and amphibians is easy to provide. Several rocks piled in a sunny spot will provide basking sites. Consider planting shade-tolerant groundcovers under trees and leaving a thick layer of leaves to provide cool shelter. Stumps, logs, and rock piles in a shady spot can be valuable.

Water for Wildlife

Clean, fresh water is as important to birds, bats, butterflies, and other wildlife as it is for people. Water in a saucer, bird bath, or backyard pond is adequate for wildlife. Be sure to change the water every few days to keep it fresh. In hot weather, it may be necessary to refill the container daily.

Logs, rocks, and water-holding structures provide drinking and basking habitat for turtles, butterflies, and songbirds. Stones with depressions that collect water will help attract butterflies.

A Word About Attracting Mammals

Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, skunks, woodchucks, mice, and deer are commonly found in many urban environments. These species are highly adaptable and, in many cases, are becoming unwanted visitors rather than welcome guests.

As with all wildlife, cover is essential for the survival of these species. Small brush piles intended for amphibians and reptiles will also provide shelter for rabbits and mice. Chipmunks and woodchucks are adept at digging their own burrows. Trees may provide shelter for squirrels, raccoons, and opossums. Food set out for birds may attract many of these animals. Squirrels, chipmunks, and mice will readily eat birdseed. Raccoons will feed on suet. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat a variety of vegetation including garden vegetables and flowering plants. Deer are browsers and will nibble at trees, shrubs, hay, and grain.

A few precautions can be taken to avoid unwanted encounters with these animals. Avoid setting out food that may attract scavengers such as raccoons. Keep garbage cans in a secure shed or garage or use metal cans that scavengers cannot chew through. Check the exterior of your house for loose or rotted boards that could allow access by mice or other rodents. Remember that these animals are wild, and if threatened they can bite. Raccoons can be particularly aggressive. All these species can carry diseases. Do not handle them.

Laws vary from state to state on wildlife issues. If you have questions or concerns about wildlife, check with your state’s Department of Natural Resources or Conservation Department before taking any action.

Backyard Habitat Programs

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) sponsors a certification program designed to help individuals plan and apply a wildlife habitat plan for a home site or small acreage. On request, NWF will send you an application package and instructions for its Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program. If your application and plan meet the criteria, you will receive a certificate and, if you wish, a sign to show your commitment to wildlife conservation.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program
National Wildlife Federation
8925 Leesburg Pike
Vienna, VA 22184-0001

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Migratory Bird Management works with groups and individuals to conserve and manage migratory birds. This agency offers information about backyard habitats for birds and wildlife. Several pamphlets are available: Backyard Bird Feeding, Backyard Bird Problems, Attract Birds, Homes for Birds, and Migratory Songbird Conservation). For more information contact:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC 20240

On the Farm

With more than 70 percent of the land in the United States privately owned, it follows that most of the wildlife in the countryside depends on private landowners. Farmers are installing grass, tree, and shrub plantings; ponds; riparian buffer strips; and other wildlife habitat at record rates. Some farmers provide bird and bat houses, while others plant or leave food plots of corn, millet, or other grains specifically for wildlife.

Pheasants, grouse, quail, prairie chickens, mourning doves, and songbirds, as well as leopard frogs, diamond-back terrapin, red bats, and other wildlife, benefit from habitat that farmers and ranchers establish on their land. Farmers appreciate and enjoy wildlife supported by good habitat and also benefit from pollination and pest control by beneficial insects.

More About Backyard Conservation
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Association of Conservation Districts, and Wildlife Habitat Council encourage you to sign up in the Backyard Conservation program. To participate, use some of the conservation practices in your backyard that are showcased in this series of tip sheets — tree planting, wildlife habitat, backyard pond, backyard wetland, composting, mulching, nutrient management, terracing, water conservation, and pest management. Then, simply fill in the Backyard Conservation customer response card, send a Backyard e-mail request to [email protected], or call 1-888-LANDCARE.

How to Attract Wildlife to Your Backyard

  • Food Where you live and what type of wildlife you hope to attract will greatly affect what type of food you put out for animals. Two general types of food that you can plant or lay out are berries and nuts. A wide variety of birds and animals will flock to your backyard to eat from your shrubs or feeders. Planting a wide array of shrubs and trees — from cherries and currants to cranberries and olives — will ensure that you attract all types of animals throughout the year .
  • Water Water is necessary if you want to attract a wide range of animals to your backyard. No matter how edible your vegetation may be, the animals may not come if there’s no water. Birdbaths are an excellent way to attract different species of birds, frogs and other amphibians. Dripping hoses or shallow dishes of water will invite reptiles, butterflies and other small animals. To attract larger animals, set an in-ground pool on your property under a shaded area surrounded by vegetation and rocks. It’s important to ensure that your water source is consistently filled with water to attract the animals and provide them with a place for drinking and bathing .
  • Coverage An excellent method to draw wildlife to your backyard is to provide them with shelter from their predators and refuge from bad weather. Planting a wide range of trees and bushes will further entice animals into visiting your home. Ensure that there is an assortment of trees at various heights to attract a variety of birds and small animals. As well, dead trees are a preferred nesting site for many animals, including owls and woodpeckers . //]]]]> ]]>

How do I attract wildlife?

Whatever your reasons are for wanting more wildlife to live at or visit your property, you won’t be successful unless you meet their needs for food, shelter/cover, water, and living space. Food and cover are the most important of these, and in fact more wildlife will die from lack of cover than from starvation. You can still attract wildlife to your property without having all of these components, but you will have a better chance if do have all on your property or on nearby properties.
Learn more about the basics of wildlife management in:
Calling All Wildlife
Wisconsin Wildlife Primer
A Landowners Guide to Woodland Wildlife Management
Learn how to enhance your woodland for wildlife in To Cut or Not To Cut?


Every species has its own specific food requirements, and those requirements may change with the season or as the animal grows. The manipulation of your forest (through timber harvesting) and the planting of trees and shrubs are the most powerful tools you have for affecting the quality of food available to wildlife. What you are looking to create is a diversity of food sources that are available year round. Choose to favor the plants that your desired wildlife feed on or that the prey of your desired wildlife feed on.
Learn more about what to plant to attract wildlife in:
So What Should I Plant?
Woody Cover for Wildlife
Landscape Plants that Attract Birds
Learn about shelterbelts and food plots in Gimme Shelter


Wildlife use cover for raising their young, escaping predators, and for protection from severe weather. The more diversity you have in cover, the more diversity in wildlife you will attract. This includes diversity in the types of trees and shrubs and their sizes and ages. This also includes diversity in the non-living parts of your forest like rock piles, standing dead trees, and brush piles.
Learn how to create brush piles for wildlife in Rabbitat
Learn how to manage dead wood for wildlife in Critter Condos
Learn how the edge between habitats is important to wildlife in On Edge
Learn how to build structures for birds and mammals in Shelves, Houses, and Feeders for Birds and Mammals


Wildlife use water bodies for a number of reasons including for drinking, bathing, and for finding something to eat. Adding some kind of water feature to your property (when you had none before) will most likely get you an immediate increase in the number of wildlife that will visit your property. However, you don’t necessarily have to have a body of water on your property to get wildlife as many times they can fulfill their need for water in other ways. They might be using water bodies on nearby properties. Many animals get most of their water from the things they eat. In general, moving water with some aquatic plants will attract more wildlife than standing water with nothing growing in it.
Learn more about restoring wetlands on your property in Just Add Water
Learn more about managing stream corridors for wildlife in Wealth of the Waterways

Living space

Every wildlife species has a unique pattern of space and territorial needs. The space needs of some wildlife can be easily fulfilled in a small amount of land whereas others require thousands of acres and will most likely be something you can do nothing about. Along with size, other characteristics of living space important to wildlife include: the shape and constituents of that living space; its connectedness to other habitats; and how it will change over time.
Now that you know the basic needs of wildlife, it is time to get started making your forest attractive to wildlife. A good first step is to figure who is using your property now. You may have already collected some data on which wildlife are on your property by noting the tracks they leave or actually seeing them. That is good, but you want to be more thorough so that you can actually see the impact the changes you are making to your forest are having. Here is a great publication on how to inventory and monitor wildlife on your property. It includes some easy to do activities that your whole family will enjoy participating in.
When you have some data collected on who is using your property, then it is time to make some changes to attract more and different wildlife. Start by figuring out exactly what it is you are hoping to get out of any activity. The more specific you can be, the better plan you will assemble and the more satisfied you will be with the results. It is a good idea to spread your activities out over several years so that you don’t get overwhelmed all at once.
Learn how to develop a plan for molding your forest into great wildlife habitat in Putting Pen to Paper
Learn all about managing your forest for wildlife in A Landowners Guide to Woodland Wildlife Management

Be aware of the threatened and endangered species that may be on your property

Even though our forests here in Wisconsin don’t seem like anything special, they contain some plants and animals whose populations are declining. There are a number of simple things that we can do to protect these species and their habitats while still achieving our own goals for our forests. Take some time to review the list in the link below and see if your property may contain any threatened or endangered species.
Here is a list of threatened and endangered species

Self-paced “Count the Critters” Lesson

In this lesson, you will learn some of the basics about wildlife habitat, and some of the tools you can use to inventory wildlife and habitat on your property.

After this lesson, you will:

  1. know the four components of wildlife habitat
  2. know how to discover which wildlife use your property

Resources referenced in presentation:
How to Inventory and Monitor Wildlife (.pdf)
Natural communities websiteChecklist of Wisconsin birds (.pdf)
WI DNR wildlife checklists (.pdf)
Plant Native
If you have question after this lesson, please e-mail us.
See the main page for more self-paced lessons and non-Flash versions.

Self-paced “Create and Maintain Wildlife Habitat” Lesson

This is a follow-up presentation from Part I: Critter Count. Now you know what you have, how do you manage for what you want? This session covers how to attract new wildlife, and managing a changing habitat to maintain the wildlife you have.

After this lesson, you will:

  1. Know how to write a wildlife plan and evaluate it
  2. Know how to implement activities from a plan

Create and Maintain Wildlife Habitat Lesson

Additional resources:
NRCS WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program)
DNR LIP (Landowner Incentive Program)
COVERTS information

If you have question after this lesson, please e-mail us.
See the main page for more self-paced lessons and non-Flash versions.

Learn In Less Than 5 video: Monitoring Wildlife On Your Property

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Wildlife for your woodlot

Related Publications

Wildlife section of our publications

Related Websites

DNR Wildlife Fact Sheets

Hear From A Woodland Owner

Hockerman discussing wildlife ponds

Zdanovec discussing managing for ruffed grouse

Zdanovec explaining the goal of wildlife in their management plan

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