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Stories from the River

Planning for Backyard Wildlife

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Every day the continuing growth and expansion of cities and suburbs are transforming more and more of Wisconsin’s and the Midwest’s wild lands into urban environments. As these urban areas grow, our homes, markets, and places of work are replacing the native residents of these locations-the wildlife. By doing some planning, we can provide living areas for those animals that would otherwise have to move on and find a new place to live. The animals that we can help are; rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, opossums, and many songbirds.

The landscape designs that society has always embraced have taken on a sterile uniform look with manicured lawns and square hedgerows. But, today many people are taking advantage of the natural contours and features of the yard or land. Towns and cities throughout the country are eliminating many restrictions such as the maximum height at which homeowners can cut their lawns. Innovative homeowners are reseeding their lawns with wildflowers and native plants which in turn help to save gasoline, lawn mowing time, and increasing the lawn’s holding capacity of water. These native lawns also cut down on fertilizing needs and help keep city lakes and wetlands clean.

Plan Your Yard for Wildlife

Wildlife has the same basic needs life requirements as man does- water, shelter, food, shelter for protection from predators and weather, and nesting and denning locations. There are numerous conventional methods to help improve your yard for wildlife.

The first thing to do is to draw a diagram of your yard and include the permanent structures like walkways, sheds, house, driveways, and utility poles. What area is left is what you have to work with in your planning. The next thing that you have to do is to choose your plantings. Here are a few rules that you should follow: 1) a wide variety of plants mean a variety of wildlife. 2) Wisconsin wildlife is more at home with native Wisconsin trees, plants, and shrubs. This holds true for whatever state in the Midwest you live in. 3) Different plants, trees, and shrubs bloom, foliage, and fruit at different times of the year. Try to take advantage of these natural cycles and choose plantings which provide a natural rotation. I’ll suggest some publications at the stories end on where to find more information.

Watering and Feeding  

Wildlife watering and feeding stations can be very simple or quite elaborate. On the simple side, a bird bath and some pine cones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed works fine. An elaborate setting could include a pond and sprinkler system and numerous feeders. The important thing to remember is to keep your watering and feeding locations at eye-level so that you may enjoy the wildlife that you’ve worked to attract. Here are a few tips to remember: 1) Keep your feeders clean since wildlife can get sick too. 2) There’s no need to paint your feeders or nesting boxes. 3) Fill an open box with course sand or grit to help birds digest food. 4) Spread seed on the ground for ground feeding birds and animals. 5) Put and tie suet and grease drippings in nylon net bags, the kind fruit comes in, and hang in your trees. 6) Corn ears staked on long nails to a board or 2X4 is great for squirrels and rabbits. 7) In the summer, stake orange halves for and to attract orioles and brown thrashers. 8) Keep your feeders out of the wind. 9) Use old Christmas trees tied together as winter shelter and cover for wildlife. 9) Try to use squirrel-proof nest boxes and feeders, using metal poles instead of trees. 10) Place your feeders and nest boxes 4 to 5 feet off the ground and close to trees and shrubs to protect the users from predators. 11) Lastly, tie bells on neighborhood cats so that they can’t prey on birds and small animals. Cats kill millions of songbirds every year.

One of the most important things to remember is that when feeding birds and other wildlife, feed regularly. If you are a wintertime feeder, continue to feed all winter because wildlife will become dependant on you for food.


You can provide wildlife cover and denning sites by piling large rocks or criss-crossing railroad ties and planting wild grape vines in the pile. Try to locate these piles near trees, shrubs, and brush. If your yard lacks mature trees needed for natural nest building, secure nest boxes for songbirds and squirrels in the crooks of trees or on poles.



    Invite Wildlife To Your Backyard: Backyard Wildlife Program, National Wildlife Federation, 1412 Sixteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. 25 cents.

    Invite Birds To Your Home, Conservation Plantings for the Midwest: Soil Conservation Service, PA-982, U.S.Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. .30 cents



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