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How To Attract Wildlife To Your Garden For Beginners

Updated on June 30, 2011

Once you know the basics of wildlife gardening, it is very easy to attract beautiful butterflies, birds and other wildlife to your garden.

All wildlife visitors are looking for three things:

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter

If you provide these three things, it will be easy to attract wildlife even to the smallest of city gardens.

Water

All wildlife needs a steady source of water. This can be as easy as planting a few large leafed plants such as the Midwest native wildflower cupplant (Silphium perfoliatum) or leaf lettuce, suspending a dripping milk carton over a platter or a patch of bare dirt, or keeping a birdbath (preferably heated for a year round water supply).

A more expensive option is to install a pond or other water garden on your property. These can range in size from a small barrel to a lake big enough to swim or canoe.

Cedar waxwings love crabapples. Photo by BobMacInnes.
Cedar waxwings love crabapples. Photo by BobMacInnes.

Food

Different kinds of wildlife have different food needs and the best way to ensure you attract as many different species as possible is to plant as many different kinds of plants in your garden as you can. The most important food sources for wildlife include:

  • Flowering plants. Flowers attract butterflies and other insects, which are beautiful and fascinating visitors in their own right, as well as birds and other animals who like to eat insects. Some flowering plants also produce seeds that attract seed-eating birds and other animals. Try to have at least one type of flower blooming in your garden every week from April to September.
  • Nut and berry producing trees and shrubs. Nuts, pine nuts, acorns, and berries will attract many birds and small mammals to enjoy the bounty. But be careful - some berries are only ornamental and are too bitter or poisonous to attract wildlife.
  • Native plants. In general, native plants are the best choice to attract local wildlife because the local wildlife evolved alongside them. In fact, many insect herbivores such as caterpillars (which turn into butterflies and are also an important protein source for many birds) are so specialized that they can ONLY survive on native plants or their close relatives.

You can also provide food artificially, with bird feeders and other feeders.

Shelter

Shelter is also an important need for wildlife. The key to providing shelter for wildlife is to provide a diverse mix of habitats from the ground up. For example:

  • Mulch and other groundcovers protects earthworms and other soil life from overheating or surprise frosts.
  • Dense plantings of perennial flowers and grasses provide shelter for many insects and other creatures.
  • A brush pile or rotting log shelters everything from microrganisms to birds and small mammals.
  • Shrubs and small trees provide nesting habitat for many birds.
  • Other birds prefer large trees. If possible, plant a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees to provide both summer and winter protection.

Many types of wildlife also welcome man-made housing, such as bird or bat houses.

Another aspect of shelter for wildlife is shelter from chemical pesticides and other poisons that can harm or kill them.

If you are interested in attracting wildlife to your yard, it is very important to minimize your use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, all of which can be dangerous to wildlife.

If you use organic gardening methods, you will often find that the wildlife you attract will repay your consideration by taking care of pest problems themselves. When left to their own devices, birds and beneficial insects such as ladybugs often do a better job of controlling pests than chemicals do!

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    • profile image

      Ben Helm 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the recommendation. My book is packed full of helpful advice - but so is my website of the same name: www.watergardenersbible.co.uk

      Helpful advice and information on installing a pond, keeping fish and koi, pond pumps, filters and keeping a pnd free of algae and blanketweed.

      Best wishes - Love your site

      Ben Helm

    • Ultimate Hubber profile image

      Ultimate Hubber 

      8 years ago

      I have a kind of flowers in my garden, that attract a lot of birds. They are orange colored but don't know their scientific or common name. I think the birds are attracted for their nectar.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for your well written hub and giving such good tips.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      I have a very large backyard that is plush with trees, plants, vegetables, flowers, mulch pile and watering sytem. All of which, as you explain draw in wildlife...

      I have a vast number of birds, friendly squerrells (although my dog would say otherwise)buzzing draonflys and butterflys. I highly recommend taking the time to bring this experience to your home! Makes wonderful photo ops and is delightful to sit among and observe.

      Thanks for the cool read.

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