Biologists say habitat loss is the biggest threat to wildlife. You can help counter that by turning your property into a wildlife sanctuary. Here are some strategies to help you create your own backyard wildlife oasis!
Feed the Birds Without Feeding Disease
Buy specific seeds for specific feeders—for example cracked corn and millet to put in one and then just sunflowers in another. This decreases interactions between the species that eat the different seeds, and waste, dramatically.
Bird seed mixtures targeted to a wide range of species are the cheapest, but most wasteful, packed with fillers like milo that most birds pick through, resulting in a mess under the feeder. The mess can quickly become a sludgy mixture that can make birds sick, so it should be cleaned up in the winter or raked out when conditions are drier. To avoid exposing ground-feeding birds to the goo put up a platform that drains well.
Say No to Poison!
If you have a mouse or rat problem, think twice before applying poison. Using rodenticides carelessly can kill wildlife. One California study found rat poison in 90% of mountain lions and 88% of bobcats - and in 25 animal species altogether, including the endangered San Joaquin kit fox and Northern Spotted Owl. For wildlife-friendly alternatives, visit saferodentcontrol.org. Consider also installing nesting boxes for barn owls. A family of barn owls can eat as many as 3,000 mice a year. For more information on these boxes, visit hungryowl.org.
Leave Dead Trees Be
Unless they pose a threat to people or property, dead trees can be left standing. They provide homes for more than 400 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Woodpeckers feed on insects found in them, and many birds, including owls and flycatchers, raise their young in the cavities hammered out by the woodpeckers.
Make Your Yard Bat-Friendly
Bats are unfairly vilified: they don't get tangled in peoples hair and are no more likely to carry rabies than any other animal. But they do perform a plethora of valuable services. One Florida bat colony was calculated to capture 15 tons of mosquitoes a year. Bats are also superb pollinators - 530 species of flowering plants are pollinated by them. But bats are in serious trouble, especially in the Northeast. You can help by building or buying a bat box and making your property welcome for these fascinating and valuable creatures.
Prevent Bird Collisions
Collisions with windows kill about 1 billion birds a year in the U.S. Sometimes the birds see reflected trees and sky in the windows and fly right at them. In the spring, they see their own reflections and think they are meeting a rival that needs to be chased off. Identify dangerous windows - especially picture windows - if you see branches or sky reflected in the glass, that's what the birds will see! Simple strategies to prevent collisions include using specially devised tape on your windows.
Honeybees and Native American bees are in trouble and you can help. Most bees are solitary creatures, with 70% living underground and the remainder living in holes inside of trees or hollow stems. "Bee condos", widely available online, allow solitary bees to take up residence and pollinate your garden. Adopting a "no weedkiller" philosophy lets your yard sprout copious amounts of clover, which attracts honeybees. Native wildflowers, like black-eyed susans and phlox, also bring in honeybees, along with the aptly named bee balm.