When humans settle in an area, the animals that were living there originally rarely just go away. Rather, we see them try their best to adapt to a significantly altered environment. Some of these changes can be quite profound. For example, studies have shown that birds living in cities have changed their songs to compensate for noise pollution. So while we might give it little thought, animals are profoundly affected by human civilization. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take as a homeowner to make your property more welcoming to wildlife—some of which yield unexpected benefits.
Why Should I Make My Yard Wildlife Friendly?
What are the benefits of making your yard wildlife friendly, if there are any? As it turns out, there are many benefits to human-wildlife interactions.
Ecological benefits. As a general rule, land that is suitable for native plants and animals is also healthy for people. In riparian zones, the regions along streams, natural vegetation provides corridors for wildlife and coveted streamside habitats for mammals, amphibians, and birds. Trees produce oxygen and are needed to remove carbon dioxide from the air. By providing a wildlife habitat in your yard, you are ensuring that essential processes within the ecosystem do not diminish in an increasingly human-centric world.
Economic benefits. Americans spend approximately 30 billion dollars each year maintaining their lawns, according to the Ohio State University. Native plants are generally less timely and costly to maintain, as they are already suited to local moisture and soil conditions. Furthermore, trees planted strategically can provide shade and reduce air conditioning costs throughout the warm season. During the cool season, they serve as a windbreak, reducing heating costs by as much as 30 percent.
More aesthetic. Few would argue that a diverse forest looks better than a simple, open lawn. Wildlife habitats provide native trees and shrubs for cover (protection from predators or the weather), so it only makes sense that they also make a place feel more private, and more relaxing.
How to Make Your Yard Wildlife Friendly
Install bird feeders. Bird feeders afford various benefits to bird species. For example, they make great stopover points for migratory birds, and help the survivorship of baby birds by providing consistent access to food. Be sure to place bird feeders in areas where only birds can get to them; if you have room in your yard, installing a shepherd’s hook would be ideal.
Install a bat house/bat box. A bat house can yield dramatic improvements to your yard. Bats are the only significant predator of nocturnal flying insects, and they consume a staggering amount of them on a nightly basis—more than 1,000 per hour! It’s no surprise, then, that providing accommodations for bats can help eliminate annoying insects like mosquitoes around your house. Bat boxes can be built, or bought. Here are some tips for installation.
Plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers. Planting a shelterbelt (rows of strategically placed evergreens, deciduous trees, and shrubs to reduce wind and erosion) doesn’t just look good—there are other benefits, too. First, this eliminates some of your lawn space, so less lawn maintenance will be needed. Second, properly designed shelterbelts, especially those over 10 rows wide, afford shade and reduce air conditioning costs during the warm months, and offer protection from chilling winds in the colder months. Furthermore, native plants are adapted to your conditions already and require little maintenance.
Reduce pesticide use. There’s a reason the word “pesticide” has such a negative connotation these days. Pesticides are, by definition, toxic—to humans and wildlife alike. Pesticides tend to kill not only the target pests themselves, but also beneficial insects, like pollenating bees. Pesticides can even kill predators of the pests in question (for example, dragonflies, one of the more significant natural predators of mosquitoes, are hit hard by pesticides). Using as little pesticide as possible will ensure that the natural predator-prey balance in your yard is preserved.
While making your yard inviting to wildlife has a wide array of benefits, it can go too far. Many animals such as raccoons, skunks, opossums, coyotes and foxes have adapted to a human habitat. After all, animals have the same needs as people — food, water, and shelter. Watching a squirrel hop and climb the trees is very cute. The same squirrel scurrying through your walls is another story. Protect your home from potential nuisance wildlife by limiting the keep pet food inside, securing garbage cans, and trimming trees around or over your roof.