Ten Tips for Backyard Habitat 

by Michael Pollack

New Jersey Audubon Society

1)      Select Wildlife Food Plants: Birds need nuts, berries, buds, catkins, fruits, nectar, and seeds for food.  Different plants relinquish them harvest a different times of year.  Plants that attract insects attract birds.  Each species of butterfly and moth requires a specific food plant on which to lay its eggs and raise its your (caterpillars).

2)      Increase Diversity: A diverse habitat is healthy a habitat.  Plant a variety of food plants to provide a variety of food throughout the year.  You will be rewarded with a variety of wildlife.

3)      Reduce Lawns: The North American lawn is the ultimate “monoculture.” Designated specifically to reduce diversity and eliminate “weeds and pests.” Reduce lawn areas to the minimum required for human needs. Lawn provides virtually NO wildlife benefit except to deer and Canada geese.

4)      Plant Natives: Plant native trees, shrubs and perennials.  It is a fact; native birds and butterflies prefer native plants.

5)      Provide Water: Provide water year-round; fresh, moving water if possible for birds to drink.  Butterflies require wet soil or sand all summer. Dragonflies, one of one most important control agents, need shallow, fish-free ponds for a portion of the year.

6)      Provide Shelter: Utilize evergreen trees and shrubs as much as possible to provide shelter and nesting areas for birds.  Be sure shelter is available near any bird feeders.  Supplement live shelter with brush and rock piles that are left undisturbed through the winter.

7)      Love Bugs: Avoid use of insecticides, and eliminate or minimize the use of chemicals.  Birds, especially our summer residents (neo-tropical migrants), and bats require insect to survive.  In turn, they are our best insects controls.  Very few insects are pests; learn to embrace our beneficial insects and to tolerate a few of the pest.  Butterflies and moths are insects.  “Bug lights” kill far more beneficial insects that harmful one.

8)      Go Wild: Many “weeds” provide a substantial number of seeds for bird food.  This is especially true of the annuals.  Let part of your yard simply grow as it wishes and, if touched at all, only remove those non-native plants considered to be “invasive.”  While neighbors and municipal authorities may frown on “messy” yards, especially in urban areas, this is a critical part of habitat.  Build it in, shield your neighbors view if necessary by surrounding this area with mass of flower or shrubs.  And help New Jersey Audubon Society to educate the public and push to overturn restrictive “weed” ordinances.

9)      Reduce Fall Cleanup: Avoid fall maintenance of most yard areas; many of our butterflies and moths spend the winter as caterpillars or pupa in leaf litter or attached to “dead” plant materials.  Raking leaves and removing flower stalks in the fall kill butterflies and moths.

10)  Relax and Enjoy!: The less mowing, weeding, pruning, and fussing with your yard you do, the more wildlife will love it.  Use the time you save to watch the butterflies, moths, and birds and other animals you attract.  Invite your neighbors over to enjoy them with you-maybe they will follow your lead and develop more backyard habitat. 


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