We can do minor things to make the most significant impact on the survival of wildlife right in our yards. This can be a beautiful step in the right direction for a balanced ecosystem. Here are 9 easy steps for a simple wildlife-friendly yard.
9 Easy Steps For a Wildlife-Friendly Yard
1. Plant trees and bushes
Having a lot of trees and shrubs of all different kinds will not only benefit the wildlife around you, but it will also benefit you!
Trees decrease pollution and increase oxygen in the air, and they provide beauty and natural shade to keep you cool in the summer and a sort of barrier in the winter.
If you have a small yard, that’s ok; even a few extra trees and bushes will make a world of difference.
I have a wide variety of both in my yard, including fruit trees, hardwoods, fast-growing trees, and pine trees. You can never go wrong with pine trees if you are unsure of what to start.
I will often have birds that locally close friends don’t have, simply because of my pine trees. It’s also a great wind barrier for your home, not to mention the wildlife who will take refuge in it.
Other great ideas of trees and bushes to start with are these:
- Native cherry, plum, or crabtree
- Red Cedar
- Beech trees
- Cottonwood/Poplar trees
- Highbush Cranberry
- Holly bush
- Staghorn Sumac
- Most native berry bushes
This wide variety will provide shelter for many types of wildlife, food like berries for birds and small mammals, and leaves for caterpillars.
Adding trees and shrubs is also one of the requirements of the National Wildlife Foundation to get backyard certified. It’s a super important first step for a wildlife-friendly yard.
2. Plant native plants and wildflowers
When beneficial insects thrive, invasive pests are at a minimum, and other wildlife benefits greatly.
Native is always stronger, healthier, and able to withstand the elements better. Native has built up an immune system, if you will, and can thrive in its native area while providing to its surroundings.
You would be surprised by the amount of wildlife that native plants and wildflowers provide for, and I encourage you to have at least 90% of your yard native.
If you have a large yard, you could even replace some of the grass with wildflowers. This is not only beautiful, but it provides endless food for many native bees, butterflies, and a vast amount of other pollinators and wildlife.
When your native flowers go to seed, that seed provides natural food for birds over the fall and winter.
Check out the internet for what is native to your area, find your favorites, and start planting! If it’s at the end of the growing season, consider fall sowing your seeds. You’ll be happy to see most of them growing in the spring!
3. Leave the leaves
If you haven’t heard, “leaf litter” is a big way to make a wildlife-friendly yard. It’s beneficial in so many ways and will even help your yard, gardens, and flowers not only look better but be healthier.
Now, if you live in a suburban neighborhood with small yards like my parents, then “leaving the leaves” may horrify you. Please know there ARE ways to support wildlife with leaves, even in neighborhoods where they may frown on that.
As leaves decompose, they add many nutrients to your soil, giving it some organic matter to enrich the entire area.
In turn, this helps grow better flowers, veggies, plants, trees, and grass – which are obvious benefits!
Leaf litter is also a winter hibernating survival place for many beneficial insects, including many native bees! Many caterpillars, butterflies, and moths will bed deep into fallen leaves to overwinter as well. Small mammals, toads, frogs, and many other forms of wildlife will also benefit from fallen leaves!
Worried about a “neat yard?” First, I want to challenge you to change your mindset. Going are the days of the perfectly manicured lawn in many areas, including removing every fall leaf you see. If you DO live in a neighborhood with an HOA or otherwise picky neighbors, you can leave small leaf piles hidden behind trees, bushes, or clusters of plants and grasses.
I’ve seen people leave them around garden decor and under their deck or steps, and I had a friend who even placed leaves in decorative baskets and pots, so it looked natural but not intentional.
You can also “mow” them or grind them up and allow the pieces of leaves to fertilize and benefit your grass naturally. I’ve encouraged my dad to do this and have watched him change his ways and blow his leaves behind his hedge of shrubs instead of removing them.
So many ways to “leave the leaves” if you don’t want to be 100% natural about it! The benefits of having them in your yard are tangible, though, so I encourage you to leave them!
4. No pesticides, rodentcides, herbicides, fungicides
Can I please have your attention? ALL OF THESE THINGS WILL WREAK HAVOC!!! Seriously, all of these “cides” are poison and will have a domino effect on all wildlife. Not only nature but your family, and not only will your property be far from a wildlife-friendly yard, but it won’t be family-friendly either!
If you think sprinkling some Seven on a cluster of insects outside is safe, think again. This powder will leave residue, and any beneficial insect of any kind (including ants, bees, and spiders, which are insects you want in your yard!) that comes into contact with it or accidentally walks across it will die.
Most significantly, this includes soft-bodied caterpillars like Monarchs and Swallowtails. Now, if any birds eat these insects, they could be affected. Your child or dog accidentally steps on the powder; THEY could be affected, the list goes on.
I can’t even tell you the number of heartbreaking stories I’ve heard about majestic owls, hawks, or eagles dying because they ate a rodent that at rodenticide. Your outdoor cat can also end up in the same boat.
I’m sure you get the point, so I won’t go on, but these chemicals are plain HARMFUL. They will also cause significant outbreaks of diseases or insect infestations by killing everything native. And remember, native is the natural thing that will take care of those pests.
For example, if your yard attracts birds, they will eat thousands of insects, especially if they nest nearby. This takes care of having too many garden pests. Also, a yard free of chemicals will bring in more beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises, and the like, who will also help take care of garden pests. THIS is a wildlife-friendly yard!
I encourage you from the bottom of my heart to find different ways to deal with these things. There are organic or chemical-free ways to deal, like Neem oil and using Palmolive water (very carefully!), and many ways to do things that don’t require chemicals!
How do I know? Because I refuse to use these things anywhere on my property, and I’ve had the privilege of watching nature take care of itself. And if it DOES need a little help? I do it chemical-free and have watched my area turn into a beautiful wildlife-friendly yard.
5. Have a water source
Having a water source is a great way to have a wildlife-friendly yard. You’ll especially notice visitors to your water during the hot, dry months of summer or in the middle of winter when it’s harder to find.
You can start by having a well-place birdbath or two. This means having it semi-close to shelter (like trees or bushes) but not close enough that an outdoor neighborhood cat can hunt them.
I have a heated birdbath on my front deck that remains unplugged in the summer. This birdbath automatically shuts off if the temperature gets to a certain point outside, so that’s an excellent option.
During the summer months, you can also create a small oasis of water for birds and other wildlife, or you can go all out and have a lovely pond if you have that kind of property.
An excellent way to set up a small groundwater source is to place the top of a birdbath into the ground and surround it with plants or flowers. I would steer clear of bushes being too close for those outdoor cats.
A good thing to remember is to place some rocks or a brick or two in your small water source so birds and other small critters can stand on it. You’d be surprised by what might use your water source!
Also, there are a lot of different birds, dragonflies, and other wildlife that like moving water. There are several bubblers you can buy that can inexpensively offer the moving water for hummingbirds and such!
6. Put up bird feeders
A great way to attract wildlife, beautiful birds is to put up a couple of well-placed bird feeders and fill them with quality food.
Location is essential for your bird feeders. Too out in the open, and your birds are sitting ducks. Hawks can quickly get to them, and birds know it; they don’t feel safe and won’t visit your feeders too often. If they do, you’ll probably be disappointed in the variety and amount of different birds you see.
On the flip side of the coin, being too close to trees or bushes could be a death sentence too. Outdoor cats or other predators can easily hide right next to the feeders, waiting to pounce.
Instead, put your feeders a few feet from trees, bushes, or other shelter and watch them flock to your feeders!
Type of birdseed
A wildlife-friendly and bird-friendly yard means feeding native birds over invasive species. By that, I mean house sparrows. Unless you are reading this from the other side of the “pond,” house sparrows are invasive, non-native birds that will kill bluebirds, tree swallows, wrens, and any other native bird that tries to nest in birdhouses.
You do not want to encourage them in your yard!
Placement of feeders helps. They don’t like feeders hung up under a “ceiling” or any with huge roofs, as they don’t like to fly up. They also will shy away from feeders that have shoe strings or fishing lines hanging from the top and sides and tend to stay on the ground. (Native birds don’t mind the strings!)
The type of birdseed matters too. Those cheap “mixed seed” bags will attract the house sparrows. I tend to stick to the following seeds:
- Black oil sunflower seeds
- Nyger/thistle seed
- Safflower seed
- Suet in upside down suet feeders
They will eat the sunflower seeds if they can get to them, but putting them in feeders they don’t like (remember placement and strings!) will deter them.
Yet, these types of feed will bring in the native birds and even other small wildlife. If you are concerned with seed on the ground, you can use trays under your feeders.
Remember that birds like cardinals, native sparrows, and doves love eating seeds off the ground, though! Just keep an eye on your feeders, and you’ll learn how to create a native wildlife-friendly yard in no time!
7. Put up bird houses
Native birds like bluebirds, tree swallows, house wrens, titmice, chickadees, and more will utilize birdhouses. It’s so fun to watch bird parents raise brood after brood of sweet babies! This also helps keep your insect population to a reasonable level and adds to your wildlife-friendly yard.
All you need to do is research on the size house/hole that each bird needs, as well as their location (height, in the open or not, etc.), and hang up a few houses! Remember that you may need to have them a certain distance from another house for territorial reasons.
I would also suggest just plain wooden boxes. No perches, no metal, glue, or cutesy stuff on the nest boxes, please! This is to keep the birds safe from gases or chemicals let off in the heat and from predators able to rest on those perches. Birds don’t need them!
Also, consider that you may need a critter baffle to keep squirrels or raccoons (or outdoor cats!) away from the boxes. Also, strongly consider the need to monitor these boxes, as you don’t want to help the house sparrow population NOR allow them to kick out (or kill) your bluebirds.
I have a whole article on this, but for now, I’ll say half of the time, all I have to do is walk outside when I see a house sparrow, and it’s gone, yet the bluebird stays, like they know I’m helping. 🙂 I also have sparrow traps and boxes.
All in all, these steps for your birdhouses will give you a wonderful, wildlife-friendly yard and help our native bird population.
8. Put up bat houses
Bats are incredible! I know some people shy away from them or are afraid of them, but I LOVE bats! They are beneficial to your wildlife-friendly yard and will eat thousands of mosquitoes and other insects in just one night!
Bats love heat and height, so placing your bat house high up (12-20 feet from the ground), far enough away from trees or other obstacles (20-30 feet), and where they get at least 6-8 hours of sun a day (east or south side) is perfect!
You will probably never see them during the day and will only know they are there if you see their droppings or see them at night.
I love watching them fly on a warm summer night; they are fun and beneficial.
I know people are afraid of them getting in the house. Most likely, they never will. IF they do, please don’t panic as they are even more afraid than you are. Open a window a couple of inches (screen too), at night and they will slip out.
9. Go the extra mile
These tips are just the tip of the iceberg. And while they may be the main things you want to think about, there are also many other things you can do for a wildlife-friendly yard.
Consider a butterfly puddler for the beautiful butterflies that visit your yard. You’ll notice other beneficial insects also stopping for a drink, some minerals, or even just hanging out on the warm rock you may have on it.
Mason bees and other solitary bees will love your bee house. You can make it or buy it, and it will significantly benefit them. The trick to keeping wasps away is to have the bee house in the sun for at least most of the day.
Certify your yard with the National Wildlife Federation to ensure you have a wildlife-friendly yard and certify as a Monarch Waystation.
You can leave upside-down flower pots or other small buckets with “doors” big enough for toads to hide in too. Toads and frogs are great for your yard! And of course, you can buy a toad house. 🙂
Reduce the number of mammals you may not want a ton of by not leaving garbage or open feed containers in your yard. Remember, though, that opossums eat hundreds of ticks literally in a single night. They also do not get any of the diseases you are familiar with so please be kind to them.
Always remember that critters are just trying to survive like we are, and they deserve a place to flourish too. A wildlife-friendly yard isn’t just fun to have, it’s critical for our earth. 🙂
Do you have any other good ideas for a wildlife-friendly yard? Please do comment below and share them with us! Thank you!